About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Jerry Coyne loses his cool, Dawkins his style

by Massimo Pigliucci

This is not going to be a post about substance, only about form. Yes, I know, many in the atheist community don’t seem to think that the latter matters. If you are among them, don’t bother to read the rest of this.

As my readers might recall, a few days ago I published a special “Rationally Speaking Picks” with links to several articles critical of Christopher Hitchens, to balance out what I perceived to be a bit too much of a glorification of his persona upon his untimely death.

Apparently, that simple list managed to completely unhinge my colleague Jerry Coyne (as well as Richard Dawkins), in the process precisely making my point that some atheists suffer from hero worship and a selective dearth of critical thinking.

Jerry and I have a long history of mutual criticism, which goes back to our pre-public outreach days, covering a variety of issues in evolutionary biology (species concepts and speciation theory, the status of evolutionary theory, and the like). As readers of this (and his) blog know, we openly take issue with each other’s posts from time to time, and occasionally — and regrettably — the disagreement has gotten personal. It was for the latter reason that at some point I issued a formal apology to Jerry, which he rather ungraciously did not reciprocate.

But his latest post is a rant pure and simple, and has finally closed the book on Jerry Coyne, as far as I am concerned (and pretty much also closed the one on Dawkins too, more on him near the end). I will leave aside, as I said, the substantive content, partly because it is so preposterously an overreaction to what I wrote that it takes care of itself, partly because many of the questions that Jerry asks have actually been answered in the articles I linked to. Instead, here is a taste of what he writes about me:

“I respond briefly: Pigliucci is full of what comes out of the south end of a bull facing north.”

(I appreciate the colorful, if somewhat burlesque-style metaphor. As it turns out, however, his response is anything but brief.)

“Give me a fricking break, Dr.3 Pigliucci!”

(Jerry appears to have a complex of inferiority in my respects, at least as judged by his constant jeering of the fact that I have three PhD’s and he only one. What’s up with that, my friend?)

“Let me dispel your ignorance of his accomplishments by listing the books he wrote.”

(This actually displays Jerry’s inability to read what I wrote, since I did say that Hitchens is going to be remembered as a good writer, as well as an advocate of atheism.)

“I needn’t say more to dispel Pigliucci’s willful ignorance.”

(Or is it Jerry’s willful ignorance? In my brief note accompanying the list of links — which is not a full post — I did acknowledge one of the very things Jerry accuses me of being ignorant of, Hitch’s on the mark criticism of Kissinger.)

“Misogynyist? Does Pigluicci know what that means?”

(Yes, he does, and he knows how to spell it, too. He also knows out to spell both Coyne’s name and his own. But apparently Jerry, in the midst of his rage, was typing far too furiously on his keyboard. Or perhaps I haven’t made it into his user spelling dictionary yet. Odd, given the number of times he mis-writes about me.)

“I find Massimo often wrong in his philosophical positions, including those about scientism, free will, and the way we atheists are supposed to behave.”

(One of those ways includes treating colleagues and fellow atheists with a minimum of respect, even when one disagrees with them. Oh well.)

“And don’t get me started on Massimo’s biology!”

(Please, do! Oh, I forgot, Jerry has already done that, rather gratuitously, in the pages of both Nature and Science magazines. I suppose that was in retaliation for my highly positive review of his Why Evolution is True book. As we all know, no good deed goes unpunished.)

“If I had a choice of having a drink and a conversation with Hitchens or Pigliucci, or having to choose to read an essay written by either Hitchens or Pigliucci, I know exactly what I’d do.”

(And yet, Jerry apparently even reads my lists of links, let alone my essays! And of course with that statement he foreclosed forever the possibility of tasting my killer dirty martinis.)

Finally, we get to Dawkins. Here is his comment on Jerry’s rant, in full:

“Bravo Jerry. Hitch wasn’t always right — who is? — but he was a giant, and irreplaceable. As for Pigliucci, who would even bother to replace him?”

Ouch. Not exactly a gentlemanly remark, particularly from a Brit of supposedly high class as Richard Dawkins. (And this, of course, is his second faux pas this year, after the debacle caused by his infamous comment to Rebecca Watson about “Elevatorgate.”)

Look, I have been guilty of my own share of critical and sarcastic comments about both Coyne and Dawkins. But I don’t think anything I wrote has ever (and, I hope, will never) come even close to this debasing level of anger and pettiness. It is a shame, and it only further lowers the level of discourse within our community, inflicting additional damage to the way the outside world perceives us. A sad way to conclude the year, and no particular reason to expect better next time around, I’m afraid.


  1. Could you link the post being quoted? Save readers some time.

  2. Massimo,

    Coyne's post is far from an angry diatribe. Your complaint seems to be Coyne's use of a playful metaphor involving a cow, his repetition of a nickname for you (and like most good nicknames, it is truthful yet teasing), and a couple of typos.

    Your threshold for invecitive needs some tweaking. And I left that typo in, just for you :)

  3. "[W]ho would even bother to replace him?"! Dawkins truly embodies the Humanism he supposedly espouses!

    I'm certainly not the first to say it, but the internet truly seems to bring out the worst in people. Despite being the most cynical person I know IRL, AND an avowed nihilist, I am utterly exhausted by the biliousness of so many atheist bloggers and commenters; your blog, Massimo, is the only skeptical/atheist blog I read any more. The rest are dedicated solely to academic philosophy or pop culture (e.g. comic books, fantasy/sci-fi movies, and the like).

    Bravo Massimo for not frothing at the mouth as so many of our atheist confreres do.

  4. So this whole article is the author crying that Coyne and Dawkins insulted him, after the author insulted Hitchens? Don't throw stones....

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. It is a bit disappointing that Dawkins behaves like this, but give the guy some slack. I imagine if one of your friends had just died a painful death you wouldn't be entirely balanced in your reactions to those who attack his reputation.

  7. Welcome to the club, Massimo! ;-)

  8. Massimo,

    For what it's worth, I am thankful for your skeptical approach to eulogizing Hitchens. I think your link list painted a much more realistic picture than the sort of hero worship I've witnessed across the internet since his death.

    I also thank you for this post. I, too, find it quite disturbing that the level of discourse has dropped to these sort of low levels. I hope that somehow these people can let go of whatever personal baggage they are carrying and start to see things a bit more critically and skeptically. We can all have civil disagreements--I really do not see the need for people like Coyne and Dawkins (or anyone else for that matter) to stoop to the level of ad hominems and immature insults.

    So, keep up the good work and thanks for all that you do!

  9. I'm leaning more on Coyne's image of Hitchens, that he was a great man with a giant intellect. But I also think that your (brief) post with links wasn't that big of a deal. Granted, I didn't read any of those articles (I doubt Coyne did it either) but this seems like an overreaction on his part. I really think he's proving your point about the hero thing.
    But I also don't think it's all that bad to have heroes; we all do and it's part of human nature. Sagan is a hero of mine and I know that I probably have a somewhat distorted view of his character.

    It's sad to see such a rift in the skeptical community. What happened to be open to dissenting opinions?

  10. PS: Evolution is Not True --> Why Evolution is True.

  11. Isn't "irreplaceable" a form of ... er ... immortalization, Mr. Dawkins?

  12. NickM,

    thanks for the correction, must have been a Freudian slip, but it's fixed now.


    yes, of course, Jerry's post is now linked.


    well, I found nothing playful and plenty angry about Jerry's post, and this isn't the first time. There is a difference between irony and sarcasm, and Jerry doesn't seem to see that not-so-subtle line, in my opinion.


    really? You cannot tell the difference between a criticism and an insult?

  13. Sorry, but I think your tone seems a bit pissy.

    I'd also agree that I don't think Hitch is replaceable. His knowledge of literature, command of the language and fearlessness in stating and defending his every view was admirable. It used to be considered bad form to cast stones at someone once they died. Was he perfect, no. But he was a giant compared to the mass of people on the planet. As for a drink and a conversation, I would think he would have been on most thinking people's short list. Those who agreed with him and those who didn't. You write as if you think that is unfair almost like you have a chip on your shoulder. "Why did everyone like him so much?"

  14. Kudos Massimo. As a species, we're prone to hero worship, which needs to be fairly balanced. Thank you for providing some balance.

  15. I do like the implication that Hitchens' nigh-on decade-long support for large-scale military intervention against the nebulous threat of "Islamofascism" is equivalent to Prof. Pigliucci's supposed errors in his "philosophical positions". Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying Hitchens' life and work should be defined by that one issue - it was far too broad for that - but it wasn't just a "mistake", of the kind to be expected from every commentator. First as it's a position he maintained steadfastly and unapologetically and second as he invested so much of himself in its promotion: it was, to him, a "fight" he was engaged in; a "battle" that he was "prosecuting". To make it a significant part of one's considerations of his legacy gives due respect to the fact that it was such a significant part of his life and, one assumes, his consciousness.

    (Zemblan's right that it's asking too much to expect an objective response from Dawkins. We're considering Hitchens as a public figure; he's considering him as a friend. On the other hand, I'm sure that someone close to Lynn Margulis would have been equally vexed by his consideration of her "net influence" in the wake of her recent passing...)

  16. Massimo,
    Coyne and Dawkins have PhD’s and they’re successful in their fields. They’re experts, meaning they know a little about one narrow field of science. They’re not particularly well educated. Neither of them would be asked to write about politics for the Nation. Katha Politt’s criticisms are valid. Hitchens support for Bush’s war on terror was shameful. He lost a lot of readers and a lot of friends. Readers of this blog contrast you with people like Coyne, Harris and Dawkins; and they characterize the latter as being more aggressive in their criticism of religion. But what really distinguishes them is their hate and how single minded they are in their hate. In order to destroy religion they’ll overlook their friend’s support for an illegal, immoral and tragic war. They will support their friend and fellow Christian and Muslim hater whose job it was to criticize the United States Government’s assault on freedom at home and innocent people overseas, but instead Hitchens turned a blind eye to the Bush administration’s lies and abuses of power. People who don’t take things like democracy and freedom for granted (as I write this it occurs to me that the whole freedom and determinism debate is really quite pathetic) and who know that these things are rarely if ever fought for and maintained on a battlefield, but rather by citizens challenging their government; these people were really disappointed by Hitchens. I appreciate you posting the link to Katha Politt’s article and the others.

  17. Massimo,

    I wouldn't make much of what these guys have said. It's on them. To those who take the time to read your exchanges, they'll see how sensible your conversations are, and the blind religious fervor of these men will become immediately apparent.

    You and I talk every now and again on Twitter (I'm @cynicalmusings) and though we may disagree on several philosophical ideas, you've always been a gentleman and a scholar in our exchanges.

    Sadly, though, it seems your academic career will fall to wayside as long as these "freethought" provocateurs are active. The history books seem to only remember the fools....

  18. I don't really care about form and have agreed more often with Coyne in your disputes, but you got this one right.

    I would try to echo Greenwalds point at WEIT if I wasn't banned - Hitch hated Muslims after 9/11. The Iraq War was just another way for Hitch to "fight" the Islamic Evil.

    Another thing, who celebrates a man who died of throat cancer by taking a picture of yourself smoking and drinking? The only parallel I can think of is Xians celebrating the cross.

  19. Though I don't agree with the language Coyne used, I think their (Dawkins' and Coyne's) anger is understandable because while commenting on a person who had just deceased, you found nothing good to say about him, while you were eloquent in highlighting Hitchen's negative qualities - abusive, misogynist, obnoxious, inconsistent...

    You say that "this actually displays Jerry’s inability to read what I wrote, since I did say that Hitchens is going to be remembered as a good writer, as well as an advocate of atheism"

    Where did you say that he would be remembered as a good writer? At least not in this article. You wrote,

    "Yes, he was an atheist. Yes, he wrote eloquently. But that's about it".

    But does the phrase "he wrote eloquently" have the meaning "he is a good writer"?. Well, my knowledge of English is limited.

    Where did you say that Hitchens will be remembered as an advocate of atheism? Not in this piece.

    You merely stated a fact that Hitchens was an atheist. On the contrary, you doubted his contribution as an advocate of atheism by calling for a "thoughtful discussion about just how much good or bad he has done to atheism, freethought, and political discourse".

    I think Hitchens' passion for secularism explains his writing of "Missionary Position : Mother Theresa" (which was badly needed when we Indian were going crazy over that lady) as well as his support for US invasion of Iraq.

  20. @carvaka: In what way is a passion for secularism related to support for the the US invasion of Iraq?! Especially given the religiously-tinged language often used to support the invasion?

  21. PZ Myers also made some negative comments about Hitchens, and I just don't see how what Massimo wrote is any different except by degree.

    Also, it annoys me when people dismiss allegations of misogyny as quickly as Coyne does. If you always attack and dismiss accusations of sexism without any serious consideration, you are in fact contributing to a sexist environment.

  22. Does no one recall that PZ Myers essentially said the same thing Massimo did when Hitchens died? Why is Coyne not lambasting him?

  23. Jerry Coyne never had any cool to lose. He runs his blog as an authoritarian enterprise, routinely banning anyone who seriously challenges him and frequently failing to respond to those who dismantle one of his dubious assertions. I loved the irony of a recent post of his that claimed the NORK regime is a theocracy. The Kim dynasty is the expected outcome of the uber-government preferences of Leftists like Coyne, and yet he tries to link that outcome to religions that have had thousands of years of at least partially beneficial cultural history. Intellectual dishonesty is rife at WEIT.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. I saw at the TAM I attended the long line of the hero worshipers you speak of. A line I was not, and never would be in. Some might make a bigger splash, but we are all pebbles here. As one not prone to glorification (whether human or divine) I for one appreciated your re-balancing of the Hitchens view. This public incivility doesn't give us a better image to be sure. And since you are not friends I guess we can't even expect any truth to come out of this argument eh? *

    *intended as a gentle jibe not full blown sarcasm. Bare text is absent tone and I didn't care to use emoticons in such a scholarly place.

  26. Chris, miller,

    the difference is that PZ is on the same side of the let's-be-in-your-face fence that Jerry is, while I am trying a different paths toward constructive atheist discourse.

  27. I'm confused (to say the least) that so many in the atheist community are uncomfortable with pointing out Hitchens' considerable flaws simply because he's dead. If any religious figure as prominent as Hitchens had displayed such ardent Islamophobia and support for the Iraq war, we would all be dancing on that person's grave in order to counteract the inevitable idolisation going on in the mainstream media - and rightly so. Hitchens repeatedly gave his support to some truly loathsome ideas and political positions, and his death does not for a moment absolve him of that.

    I would have hoped that we atheists, the 'rational' ones, would be above simplistic glorificationof the recently deceased.

  28. @Massimo: I feel like that makes it even more hypocritical of Coyne to attack your view of Hitchens, since PZ said Hitch was, in this case (Iraq), a "bloodthirsty barbarian and a club-carrying primitive" - far harsher than your remarks (though less recent).

    I wonder if Coyne also dismisses Leiter's assessment, which pulls even less punches than you or PZ, because he's also a philosopher? Or if he would dismissvely characterize Leiter as Dr. Dr. Leiter, since he is both a philosopher and a legal scholar!

  29. @TheDudeDiogenes: I have never been a supporter of US invasion of Iraq, which Hitchens was. What I meant was, while trying to understand Hitchens's position, I feel that perhaps he saw the Saddam's regime as a religiously inspired autocracy (though in comparison with other middle east countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq under Saddam was less rigid. Though Saddam claimed otherwise, under his regime "positions of power in the country were filled with Sunnis, a minority that made up only a fifth of the population" (wikipedia). Again, I am not justifying US invasion.

  30. Massimo, I'm up for a good dirty martini!

  31. @carvaka, Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you supported the invasion. And while, upon reflection, I think you are probably right about what Hitch thought about Saddam favoring Sunnis, I still think he was undeniably wrong to support the invasion. Anyone who thinks the Iraq invasion helped the cause of secularism in any way, I can only describe as deluded. (Although it wouldn't change my mind regarding the invasion, I find the cause of the freedom of the Kurds, which Hitch talks about at length in his autobiography, would at least be a better justification to offer for the invasion.)

    I find Hitch's mistaken positions unfortunate, to put it mildly, as I quite enjoyed his god is not Great (though not as much as Onfray's Atheist Manifesto) as well as The Missionary Position and his book on Jefferson. (I can't remember if I read his book on Orwell or not. No doubt because of all the ganja over the past couple of years!)

  32. "This actually displays Jerry’s inability to read what I wrote,…"

    "Jerry appears to have a complex of inferiority in my respects…"

    "Or is it Jerry’s willful ignorance?..."

    All the above statements are insults meant to stifle further discussion and communication. Are they really necessary?

    An eye for an eye?!

  33. I've never quite understood Jerry's constant criticism of your three PhD's. If I am not mistaken, they are from three different schools in three distinct (yet somewhat related) fields.

    I could understand the criticism if you were a perpetual student (yet you earned your most recent degree in Philosophy while you were teaching at Tennessee, correct?), or if earning additional degrees had prevented your career advancement (which does not seem to be the case, considering you are now a Department Chair).

    Considering his vocation, I don't think it is a stretch to assume Jerry finds higher education an admirable goal. So again, whats up with that?

  34. jrhs,

    > All the above statements are insults meant to stifle further discussion and communication. Are they really necessary? <

    Of course not. But by this time I'm done playing nice with Jerry. My response was sarcastic on purpose, to highlight the fact that there is no real discussion going on here, and that Jerry has reverted to pure condescension despite my offer of an olive branch. Too bad, really.

  35. Just passing to say hello.
    But I will wait in the hope of finding some substance, and less "form", next time...

  36. Actually, I think this post -- or, rather, this entire situation -- is as much about substance as it is form.

  37. Massimo,
    I love you, but I cannot take sides here.
    My mother always instructed me, never get in the middle of an Atheist cat fight.
    Good luck.

  38. s. But I don’t think anything I wrote has ever (and, I hope, will never) come even close to this debasing level of anger and pettiness.

    The titles of many of your blogs come pretty close....

    - Engineers vs intellectuals? How Timothy Ferris gets it spectacularly wrong

    - Why I don’t like Larry Summers

    - Jonathan Haidt does it again, unfortunately

    - Barbara Bradley Hagerty does it again, unfortunately

    - Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity: visionary genius or pseudoscientific crank?

    - PZ Myers is a witless wanker who peddles pablum

    - Krista Tippett does it again

    - Is Stanley Fish smarter than Richard Dawkins?

    - Is Richard Dawkins really that naive?

  39. I don't really like very much Massimo's approach to atheism, and from the very few blog posts that I have read, I find you quite condescending.

    I find Coyne/Dawkins/PZ... approach more interesting, clear and open.

    But I agree with Massimo's premise that there is no hard data on which approach is better for promoting atheism.

    This is one situation in which I really would like to see a debate, in which both parties can discus I put forward their arguments.

    Atheist debating Christian has become boring... always the same arguments. But hard vs. soft atheist debate would be cool, as we can think that the participants are more familiar with rational arguments.

    Massimo would you be up for a debate with Coyne or PZ?

  40. "let's-be-in-your-face" is not a charitable summary of the other side (which I am a part of). There's-a-time-and-a-place-for-in-your-face or let-me-be-in-your-face-but-you-don't-have-to or in-your-face-isn't-universally-bad. You get the drift.

    Also, a general problem with the civility side is that it is routine to be hypocritical. Not very many people can pull it off all the time.

  41. Dave,

    remind me to turn off the "nasty titles" tag on the blog... ;-)

    Seriously, there are some people toward who I do have contempt and have no trouble showing it, Larry Summers being one of them. In other cases, you realize that there is a difference between harsh criticism and personal insult. To be accused of being "spectacularly wrong" of "unfortunately wrong" is something that mature adults ought to be able take. Kurwzeil: if you read the article, I conclude he is wrong, but not a crank. PZ's witless wanker was actually a sarcastic remark in response to his using those terms to vilify my colleague Michael DeDora.

    More broadly, this discussion is about atheists who largely agree on the fundamentals and who ought to be able to disagree in a more constructive and civilized manner.

    Yes, I have been occasionally guilty of the same, but as far as I know I am the only one who has recognized it (multiple times), apologized, and extended a truce. PZ, Jerry and Co. are above any admission of the sort, and they keep engaging in the same sort of behavior. And I never, ever, stooped so low as some of the comments made by Jerry and PZ in the last couple of days.


    > would you be up for a debate with Coyne or PZ? <

    Yes, but I doubt they would agree, and I have little expectation that much good would come from that sort of debate.


    > a general problem with the civility side is that it is routine to be hypocritical <

    Why is it that politeness leads to being hypocritical? One can be civil yet firm, no?

  42. One can be, but routinely one is not. You've admitted yourself to engaging in personal attacks. I'm not reproaching you - it happens - but be realistic about it. Some situations call for rudeness. Do you agree?

  43. Coyne's reaction does seem both an over-reaction and highly unprofessinal in content.

    It is quite usual that, at someone's death, all who speak at the funeral only wax lyrically about the deceased. That somehow only positives exist, and that nothing negative can even be contemplated. That it is the height of political incorrectness to disparage the deceased.

    But I think that Hitchens would have been the first to agree to, even welcome, the airing of negative criticism. And the opportunity to debate it.

  44. Dawkins is a buffoon so taken with anger that his level of incredulity toward a given idea is what he feels should get the most press.

  45. Massimo,

    I can't say I have any interest in this personal kerfuffle between you, Jerry Coyne and Dawkins. However, on the original point of the "balanced" view of Hitchens you put forward in your previous post and our later disagreement in the comments - I've been doing some thinking. What I have subsequently thunk is that the original accusation of hagiography is what really got my proverbial goat; this underestimates the audience's intelligence - it's common knowledge that he was not al-insan al-kamil (hows that for irony) - and ignores the immediate human need for a less rational, emotional response to his death. In that way, it acted as a provocation for those not feeling particularly full of sunshine at the time.

    Perhaps the responses you got from Coyne and Dawkins also reflect this, more than anything else.

  46. Pull the plank out of your own eye, Professor. Not only is your critique of Hitch childish, biased and parochial, but your reaction to others' reaction of your critique is very telling. Bury the hatchet and get on to being the philosopher and biologist we've all come to know and love. This pissing contest with Coyne and Hitch or whoever is getting old.

  47. FYI Dawkins has apologized:

    Richard Dawkins
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 6:35 am

    I still Jerry was entirely correct in his defence of Christopher Hitchens against a misguided and unwarranted attack. Nevertheless, I now regret what I said, in the heat of the moment, about Massimo Pigliucci personally, withdraw it, and apologise.


    Source: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/in-defense-of-hitch/#comment-169285

  48. It may interest you (or not) that Richard Dawkins has posted an approximation of an apology in the original thread:

    Also, posting comments on your website is a real pain, with them IDs and the logins and the c-ooooo-mplex procedures.

  49. vHF,

    I apologize for the somewhat cumbersome commenting system, but the blog is moderated because of occasional death threats and more frequent inappropriate comments. Cheers.

  50. Massimo, kudos for taking on the bratty behavior of Coyne & Dawkins.

  51. Massimo, you won't win any popularity contests by your criticism of Coyne and Dawkins, since they are so well loved that the public often comes up with rationalizations to excuse their bad behavior. As Jay noted, they use their position as moderator/censor on their respective websites as a bludgeon to silence even the mildest critics (I know this from personal experience).

    Coyne, in particular frequently uses insults instead of reasoning to deal with opponents, and frequently assumes a superior air -- taking the position that the other person's point of view is so ridiculous that it need not be refuted by serious argument -- before censoring the opponent so that he cannot reply. Thus, Coyne declares himself the winner in a debate: "proof by intimidation" -- he wins a lot of arguments that way.

    However, Coyne and Dawkins have many fanatic fans that will defend even the most egregious outrages. It is sad, because both men are highly intelligent and fully capable of making a polite and reasoned argument, but seem to prefer to adopt a smug, Nazi-like air of a "superman" that need not bother to deal seriously or politely with his "inferiors".

    I think it is very damaging to the atheist/skeptics cause. I started out admiring these men, and was greatly disappointed to see how flawed they are. I am sure they are off-putting to many who might otherwise be converted to a more scientific viewpoint.

    Massimo, thanks for standing up for civility in debate!

    P.S. Dawkins has apologized for his own remarks, but will call for Coyne to apologize for his, or even acknowledge that Coyne's remarks were inappropriate? I'll wager not.

  52. I keep reading this blog with the hope that some intelligent and rational ideas will sway me from agreeing with people such as PZ, Dawkins, Coyne, etc on various issues where they disagree with Massimo.

    I keep hoping for the side I disagree with to sow something to keep me thinking. This rarely happens here. Having met Massimo (in GA last year) as well as many of the new atheists (Coyne is not one I have met), I found all of them, even Dawkins, to be more friendly, warm, and thoughtful.

    I will give this blog a little more time to convince me before I delete it from my feed...hoping...

  53. Per Massimo's comment on Hitch's misogyny, I present:


    “Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny?”

    —Vanity Fair, 2007


    If a religious person said that, Gnus would be all over him. But, it's Hitch, so Gnus say, "no, he wasn't a misogynist."

  54. In 2011 you count two Dawkinsian faux pas?
    This is why one must urge atheists to abscond from their almost exclusive well within the box atheists group think de jour.
    Dawkins spends his days dishing out ungentlemanly remarks against those whom he disagrees (including telling a Rabbi Boteach that he rants like Hitler and comparing Ted Haggard’s church service to Hitler’s Nazi Nuremberg rally—to name a mere sample [these are non 2001 faux pas]).
    Why is it that atheists who make their living by running anti-Christian support group and pouring out derision suddenly turn into prim and proper gentlemen when someone responds and point out their nastiness? “Oh my, why, I’ve never!”

  55. I'm on your constructive criticism side of the atheist debate. But I have to say that complaining, ironically, about women not being funny isn't really a sign that the complainer hates them.

  56. Amen to what you said, Massimo Pigliucci.
    Mishy Godard Dunleavy.

  57. Rest of comment not there--glitch.

    What I added was, you're not going to win any popularity contests for some of the things you wrote, but trust yourself and be true to yourself. Quaint of me to say so, perhaps, but worth putting the reminder out there I think. Mishy Godard.

  58. I just added you to my circle at GooglePlus so I had the chance to read some of the commentary. I'm really not sure why you do this, Massimo; it gets SO *arch*--the commentariat-- and for what in return? Well you're tougher than I. Anyway, I think you could be a very interesting thinker to read and you'll get no archness or intellectual bullying from this quarter. I mean, I'm interested in what you said, above, about the worth of a civilised debate on atheism and types of atheism and analysis of the form rather than the function. I don't know that I see enough evidence (yet) that that can happen on the net ; such that both parties are doing equal work in keeping the tone of civility. Seems to me it's usually one person running from the boulders-a la Buster Keaton--while the other one throws them down the hill. But we'll see! Mishy Godard Dunleavy

  59. Unfortunately, it's disputes like this that convince me that the secularist/nontheist/skeptic movements simply cannot be cohesive enough for many (including myself) to feel comfortable associating with.

    For instance, I'm politically left-of-centre, and in favour of policies that strongly favour ecological concerns. On the other hand, I'm turned off by radical feminism, confrontationalist advocacy approaches, and scientism. No matter where I look, someone in the movement would consider me "the enemy" based on ideologies or identity politics that override commitments to naturalistic/metaphysical worldviews.

  60. Dr. Pigliucci,

    I hope this doesn't seem too trivial of me to say this, but I kinda wanted to get it off my chest. My comment to you above from a few days ago was very inappropriately phrased; too blunt, crass - rude even. I still very much disagree with you about this general Hitchens issue, but I could've phrased what I said in politer and less equivocal terms. I do apologize for what I said, and the way I said it. I respect you too damn much to "talk" to you that way. :s

  61. As a military historian I am fully aware that an accurate biography is entirely dependent on its author’s ability to remain dispassionate, sensible, and fair in his or her treatment of the subject. After reading this piece I realized Dr. Pigliucci was absolutely correct in his attempt to balance the writings of Coyne, Dawkins and others who painted only one image of a vastly complicated, highly intelligent, gifted man like Christopher Hitchens. Moreover, it is entirely likely that Hitchens himself would have scoffed at much of what was written in the first days after his death, and dismissed it as emotional tripe. To date, only Salman Rushdie has managed to produce something that approaches an accurate description of his dear friend, and he managed this by including the less human side of Hitchens. In short, those who seek to glorify the life of a great man by ignoring and/or denying his mistakes and fallibility do him a disservice. Coyne, Dawkins and others should have, and could have done better.

  62. While I often agree with Jerry and Dawkins about points relating to Free-will and other topics that I don't agree with you on, I must say that I respect you so much, that I truly believe the comments insulting. You blog a lot, and go out on the line with your ideas, and answer all criticisms and differences of opinions. You respect your readers, regardless of our backgrounds. I thank you for that, as I am sure the rest of your audience does, even when we disagree.

  63. To quote 'that book' via Life of Brian: 'Blessed are the peacemakers'! I contend that in fighting within atheist intellectualism only helps the irrational and religious. Divisiveness and infighting are legend in radical movements, but atheism is NOT a radical movement. It is about rationality and evidence. I am not some hippy saying 'can't we all just get along', but we really do need to focus on the reality that there is a far greater 'enemy' to unite against.

  64. I appreciate you three1 Stick to substance from now on.
    Feel free to criticize me here from ;http://fathergriggs.wordpress.com
    I've a network of blogs to spread naturalism. I combine and permute arguments. I compose articles and crosspost articles from elsewhere. Google skeptic griggsy and also arguments about Him-that square circle to see how one gnu goes after superstition.

  65. Jerry Coyne and Dawkins are just arrogant. They spend a lot of time trying to prove those who believe in God are idiots. This tactic backfires because hate is not very influential. I don't believe in evolution and I have a doctorate degree. Many smart intellectuals also do not believe in it. Why does Coyne and Dawkins really care? They are quick to insult the religious as trying to spread the faith and yet that is exactly what they are doing.


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