Shorter Jerry Coyne:
Wanting gnu atheists not to be dickbags is the equivalent of telling them to STFU. Jeremy Stangroom’s claim that gnus use ad hominem attacks is wrong because, look, he tried to defend a 28 year-old woman having sex with a 14 year-old boy. If you need further proof that I’m focused on substance not ad hominem argument, consider this: Stangroom must be wrong because I don’t want to have a beer with him.
Coyne’s whole piece is a marvelous example of the ad hominem tendencies Chris Schoen pointed out (quoted and discussed yesterday). Stangroom is supposedly wrong about gnus because his take on underage sex – in a separate post from over a month ago – is gross and sexist. Jean Kazez is wrong because Coyne doesn’t find her parable as funny as Russell Blackford’s. Though Coyne built his blogging career on attacking accommodationists, he finds it disreputable for people to criticize gnu atheism, and he repeatedly claims (without offering a shred of evidence) that criticizing gnus costs accommodationists both readership and respect. As if readership were a metric of philosophical merit. I suppose it’s no worse than “who would you rather drink a beer with?,” and how can you dislike a metric that gave George W. Bush two terms in the White House.
Coyne argues, and quotes Blackford arguing, that Kazez’s post in praise of the candor of New Atheism is actually a call for people not to be candidly atheist. Kazez:
“The Emperor’s New Clothes.” … One brave girl speaks up and says, naively “The emperor has no clothes!” Good for her! Hurray!
I saw Dawkins and Harris, in the early days of new atheism, as that girl. We’re not supposed to speak openly about religion, and what’s wrong with it, but they did. I liked their books in just the way I like that girl.
What we are proposing is not mocking individuals or generally behaving like arse/assholes. It is, however, doing the things that [“nicely-dressed kid with a big white Colgate smile”] Mooney … said we should not do. That is, we do intend to go on questioning religious beliefs, even so-called liberal ones, criticising religious apologists, even so-called moderates, and putting the case that “there is no God”.
Remember, that’s meant to be arguing against Kazez, suggesting that the person who cheers on folks who stand up and say “whats wrong with [religion]” doesn’t want them to “question religious beliefs, criticis[e] religious apologists, … and put the case that ‘there is no God.'”
But obviousness is not a reason to dispense with communicative care. Lots of things are obvious (to me) but the way I communicate about them rightly varies from topic to topic, situation to situation. Of course.
The calls for civility from people like Kazez and Chris Mooney is [sic] really a dictum—STFU
This would only make sense in light of what Kazez said if the only way gnus could communicate is via insult and invective. Which gnus insist they hardly use anyway. Nothing in Kazez’s piece can plausibly be taken as a call for anyone not to speak out at all, just a recommendation to think about how to speak out in a way that will effect the change they wish to see.
I don’t think that Coyne’s or Blackford’s whinging about the tone of their critics is a call for us to STFU, and if they thinks their critics want them to STFU, they need to get new glasses. As I said yesterday:
when Russell claims in the post linked above that I “wish that the Gnus would go away,” he’s wrong. I wish they’d make better arguments, ones which engage the peer reviewed literature in the relevant fields, including philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, science/religion studies, metaethics, and even theology. I wish they cited that literature more, and I wish they published their arguments there and engaged with the relevant communities of scholars that way, rather than just through blogs, and TED talks, and mass-market books and magazines. I wish they’d study the literature of social movement theory, and take what lessons can be learned from past efforts to change society and apply that research to their own efforts. I wish they’d lay out some sort of consensus platform, including both big principles and practical changes to be made. I wish they’d work with, rather than against, their most likely allies. I wish they wouldn’t drive wedges within the pro-science movement, and would focus their righteous ire on the religious authoritarians who deserve it, or who at least we all agree deserve it most. I don’t want them to go away, I want them to be better at what they’re trying to do.
Still true. I’m sure gnus will find a way to twist that into “STFU,” but that’ll still be bullshit.
Bonus Coyne reading incomprehension:
[Stangroom] criticizes Russell Blackford for “incivility” because Blackford used some mild sarcasm.
No, he criticized Blackford for “incivility” because Blackford has a history of dismissing people’s arguments because he doesn’t like how those people look.