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:
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.