Beer goggles

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.

Blackford:

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.'”

Kazez:

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.

Coyne:

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.

Comments

  1. #1 BenSix
    February 19, 2011

    Eventually, as the crowd descended into argument, the Emperor thought, “Sod this. I’m staying indoors…

    More seriously, you’re right. Coyne writes, of Kazez…

    Her post included a cringe-making fable, “The Emperor’s Gnu Clothes,” in which the children who criticized the emperor were seen as “rude and insulting.” (Subtlety is not Kazez’s strong suit).

    If it was such a clunker why has he misrepresented it? Because, perhaps, he’s so locked into this perception of *ahem* “gnus” being stifled by “accommodationists” that he can’t enter the debate except through that paradigm. (We’d all like to be that girl, noting the Emperor’s nads, but we rarely are.) On the other hand…

    Blackford has a history of dismissing people’s arguments because he doesn’t like how those people look.

    I’m not sure that’s correct. The post that drew Stangroom’s scorn is insulting but the barbs are at least ingrained in some form of argument. A rotten one, perhaps, but an argument nonetheless. To pass off a line as my own, it ain’t ad hom to tell someone that they’re wrong and ugly but that they’re wrong because they’re ugly.

    I can’t help but reach for a ludicrously overblown simile and claim that, like the Allies and the Axis Powers, these two eccentric forces aren’t engaging in combat so much as entrenching themselves.

  2. #2 julian
    February 19, 2011

    Not to derail or anything but I think Kazez’ story doesn’t make much sense if it’s praising candidness. Sure I get Ms. Kazez respects the early new crowd for how open and upfront they were but the story is pretty much what Coyne describes it to be. At least from my reading (which may have been damaged by my gnuosity)

  3. #3 Physicalist
    February 19, 2011

    Come on, Josh. At least try to appear serious.

    Blackford gave the key example of the STFU post that set off the gnu-anti-Mooney movement. Your ignoring that indicates your unwillingness to engage the actual complaints and arguments.

    he criticized Blackford for “incivility” because Blackford has a history of dismissing people’s arguments because he doesn’t like how those people look.

    Get real. Blackford (along with Rosenhouse, for that matter) demolished Mooney’s “arguments” (such as they were) long before he reached the point of exasperation that prompted him to invoke the “Colgate twins” label. It’s Mooney who would never respond to arguments or questions, and this (along with Mooney’s high-profile holier-than-thou attacks) is what led to Blackford’s exasperation.

    I challenge you to show me one example of Blackford’s “history of dismissing people’s arguments because he doesn’t like how those people look.” You’re not making yourself look good here.

  4. #4 Josh Rosenau
    February 19, 2011

    Physicalist: The example Blackford gave was a post from over 2 years ago by Chris Mooney about a book review that Jerry Coyne wrote, a review that no one is talking about any more except to talk about the nefarious ways of Chris Mooney. Which is fine as far as it goes; Chris can take care of himself and either address criticism or ignore it as he pleases. The problem is that it doesn’t go very far. It doesn’t, for instance, demonstrate anything about Jean Kazez. Nor does it demonstrate anything about me. I question whether it says anything about how Chris Mooney would make his same point today rather than two years ago, though again, I don’t really care about that. I don’t think it can fairly be described as representing anything about “accommodationism” writ large, nor can about anti-gnu arguments in general today.

    I don’t engage with the criticism of Mooney’s 2 year-old post now because I didn’t care about it then, I didn’t care about Coyne’s review then, and I care even less about either now. I cannot think of any link between that review/Mooney’s reply and anything Kazez says or anything I’m saying now. Blackford’s bringing it up is a non sequitur, and I felt like ignoring it was the kindest response.

    Which is also why the shiny smiles and youthful looks of his fictional interlocutor is an ad hominem dismissal of accommodationism. He reduced accommodationism to Mooney and Kirshenbaum, to two people, and thus substituted personal criticism for intellectual dispute. If M&K were the only people making that argument, it might (might!) have been fair. But they aren’t. And some of us have crooked teeth and bald heads and grey hairs in our unkempt beards. If the defense is that Blackford’s comments are restricted to Mooney, he shouldn’t be writing about “Chris Mooney and Josh Rosenau,” nor bringing either of us up in a post about Jean Kazez. If the defense is that he isn’t talking just about Mooney, then he shouldn’t have made the crack about his fictional interlocutor’s appearance. There’s simply no way that he wasn’t using that as a part of his long-standing policy of dismissing Mooney and Kirshenbaum based on their looks (which is not the same as saying he dismisses them only based on their looks).

    Rosenhouse manages to be critical of M&K without getting into digs on their appearance, and I think Blackford could have managed that if he wanted to.

  5. #5 Physicalist
    February 20, 2011

    Josh:

    The example Blackford gave was a post from over 2 years ago

    Ummm. The colgate example that Stangroom offers, and that you endorse, is precisely from this period. So it’s hardly Blackford who is dredging up the past here. (And a little bonus re-snark for Stangroom’s sake does nothing to change the situation.)

    I take it that your reply tacitly admits that you were wrong in claiming that Blackford is guilty of “dismissing people’s arguments because he doesn’t like how those people look”, since you offer no example of this happening.

    As for the relevance of bringing in Mooney at this late date, I have to say that when I read Kazez talking about “grown ups” who are chastising gnu atheists for squawking too loudly, I rather thought she meant to make reference to Chris and Sheril’s book, and the dust-up following it. Maybe I’m living in the past, and the internet has moved on. But then, aren’t all you “accommodationists” hunting gnus for their sins of the past years?

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    February 20, 2011

    Physicalist: Blackford refers to “a nicely-dressed kid with a big white Colgate smile” in the post Stangroom was addressing. He posted that this Thursday. Not two years ago.

    That’s the example most immediately at hand, and one you’ve yet to deal with.

    The post at hand here is about what Coyne and Blackford said late last week, not in “past years.” I sometimes refer to historic instances, but also to more immediate examples to show continuity, and I don’t hold one gnu responsible for the failings of some other gnu, as Blackford does in indicting me over his beef with Mooney.

    And again, Mooney and Kirshenbaum are not the only, or the first, or the most recent critics of gnu atheism to point out these sort of problems. Dawkins pre-emptively addresses some of those criticism in TGD. And Chris and Sheril have largely moved on to other topics, and no longer are the major voices in this debate. So it doesn’t make sense to think they are who Kazez was talking about.

  7. #7 Verbose Stoic
    February 20, 2011

    Josh,

    From reading Blackford’s latest post (that spawned the digging from Stangroom for that term), it seems that:

    1) He admitted earlier in the post that he’d put some snark in, and then he did.

    2) He considers Mooney and Kirshenbaum relevant to the parable because while people may have stopped talking about that review and their reaction to it, he thinks that that’s where the “accomodationist” debate took off; while there were debates before, that was the big moment that brought it directly into the foreground. He might be wrong about that, but considering that he seems to, in fact, believe that you can see why he’d say it.

    Using that earlier post as an example of strong snark that might be what “accomodationists” complain about and that many gnu atheists say never happens might be fair, but I don’t think the points in your last comment are fair.

  8. #8 Jean Kazez
    February 20, 2011

    Obviously it was perfectly appropriate for Jeremy to bring up the “Colgate Twins” epithet. Russell had written this–

    “Unless I am confronted by egregious examples of power and influence being used destructively – as we see every day from the Catholic Church – I am actually very restrained. The same applies to others who could be seen as belonging in the Gnu herd. Even my commenters tend to be a polite, thoughtful bunch.”

    The “Colgate Twins” thing was a memorable counterexample, with or without Russell’s reminder at the end of his post. You just can’t complain when people respond to bold claims with obvious counterexamples.

    As to supposedly telling people to STFU… There are a million conclusions you could come to about communication–speak here, not there, now, not then, using these words, not those. That’s not equivalent to “don’t say it at all” (duh). But is “don’t say it at all” sometimes the right judgment? Sure, why not? Take the message that Obama is an atheist–a Jerry Coyne recurrent theme. The closer we get to 2012, the more I’ll be thinking STFU. But it’s out and out silly to think that all discussion of how we communicate is equivalent to STFU.

  9. #9 Journalmalist
    February 20, 2011

    Coyne’s whole piece is a marvelous example of the ad hominem tendencies …

    I don’t see Coyne employing ad hominem attacks in that post, Josh. Perhaps you could point out one example. Or perhaps the word “tendencies” gives you enough wiggle room to make the allegation without having to actually back it up?

    Or, perhaps you really do think that Coyne’s pointed criticism is the same as ad hominem (is isn’t), and therein lies the crux of the entire contretemps between the Gnus and the Accommodationists…

    You could settle the matter by citing one example of ad hom from Coyne’s post.

  10. #10 TB
    February 20, 2011

    “perhaps you really do think that Coyne’s pointed criticism is the same as ad hominem (is isn’t),…”

    It is, under a dictionary.com definition.

  11. #11 Journalmalist
    February 20, 2011


    Really?
    Which definition, exactly?

    ad ho·mi·nem   
    [ad hom-uh-nuhm ‐nem, ahd-] Show IPA
    –adjective
    1. appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason.
    2. attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument.

    World English Dictionary
    ad hominem (æd ˈhɒmɪˌnɛm)

    — adj , — adv
    1. directed against a person rather than against his arguments
    2. based on or appealing to emotion rather than reason

    Cultural Dictionary
    ad hominem [(ad hom -uh-nem, ad hom -uh-nuhm)]

    A Latin expression meaning “to the man.” An ad hominem argument is one that relies on personal attacks rather than reason or substance.

  12. #12 Josh Rosenau
    February 20, 2011

    Journalmalist: The major example is Coyne’s repeated reference to Stangroom’s post about statutory rape. That was an attempt to say this person is wrong because he holds certain unrelated views that I find morally objectionable. It’s a personal attack, rather than substance or reason.

  13. #13 Robert Hagedorn
    February 20, 2011

    Sex and religion and psychoanalysis. Do a search: The First Scandal.

  14. #14 Journalmalist
    February 21, 2011

    I don’t think so, Josh. In fact I’m sure that is not an a hominem, much less a “marvelous example” of one. Coyne is not saying Stangroom is wrong about gnus because he holds odious views about statutory rape (and even if he were, that’s not an hominem attack, it’s a fallacy — ignoratio elenchi I believe.)

    He is calling out Stangroom for his pompous remonstrations against mean old (gnu) atheists, as evidenced here (talk about ad hom!), criticisms that are difficult to take seriously, given Stangroom’s dubious moral compass. It’s basically a ‘people-who-live-in-glass-houses’ charge.

    Your phrase “bonus Coyne reading incomprehension” is sounding particularly descriptive …

  15. #15 Anthony McCarthy
    February 21, 2011

    Wanting gnu atheists not to be dickbags is the equivalent of telling them to STFU.

    As someone who used to comment at Why Evolution is True until Coyne told me not to, with a couple of childish insults thrown in, I recently saw this sentence on one of his diatribes.

    I’m loath to tell anyone, however misguided, to shut up. After all, skepticism goes hand in hand with a penchant for free discussion, and even accommodationists have the right to expel their opinions into the ether.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/mark-vernon-out-of-his-depth-again/

    Wanting to test to see if Coyne had adapted to blog life with a thicker skin, I posted a comment beginning with a mildly skeptical “Ha” to that assertion and a refutation of his assertions in support of Daniel Dennett, in language far less heated than Coyne and his amen choir were engaged in.

    Well, the comment posted, only to disappear when I checked a few hours later.

    I acknowledge Coyne’s right to control the content of his blog but he’s a liar and a hypocrite when he presents himself himself as a liberal champion of free thought.

    Coyne’s a biological determinist, the new atheists are, their ideological foundations inevitably lead that way and all determinists will eventually negate the essential prerequisites for democracy and self-government. He’s also incredibly thin skinned for a hatchet man.

  16. #16 Jean Kazez
    February 21, 2011

    “criticisms that are difficult to take seriously, given Stangroom’s dubious moral compass.”

    Jeremy makes an argument about X. Instead of finding flaws in the argument about X, you shift attention to something about Jeremy–his position on Y. You then say his position on X “can’t be taken seriously.” In other words, you’ve used something about the man to discredit his argument. If that’s not an ad hominem, what is?

  17. #17 BenSix
    February 21, 2011

    It’s basically a ‘people-who-live-in-glass-houses’ charge.

    Isn’t that just ad hominem translated out of the Latin and wedged into idiom?

  18. #18 Anton Mates
    February 21, 2011

    journalmalist:

    In fact I’m sure that is not an a hominem, much less a “marvelous example” of one. Coyne is not saying Stangroom is wrong about gnus because he holds odious views about statutory rape

    Even if that were true, it’s irrelevant to any of the definitions of ad hominem you cited. None of them require an explicit “X is wrong because X is evil” argument.

    (and even if he were, that’s not an hominem attack, it’s a fallacy — ignoratio elenchi I believe.)

    Wikipedia:
    A typical example of ignoratio elenchi is the argumentum ad hominem.

  19. #19 Josh Rosenau
    February 21, 2011

    Ben Six: “glass houses” is tu quoque in particular, which is a form of ad hominem.

  20. #20 Anthony McCarthy
    February 21, 2011

    He considers Mooney and Kirshenbaum relevant to the parable because while people may have stopped talking about that review and their reaction to it,he thinks that that’s where the “accomodationist” debate took off V.S.

    I was there and remember asking who was suggesting that science include anything except the presentation and analysis of physical evidence in the formal presentation of science. Gillt, in particular, asserted that was a danger. When pressed for an example he found exactly one instance when a phrase mentioning God appeared in a paper that almost got published, before some readers more careful than the soi disant reviewers noticed it. If anyone who was at that particularly crowded discussion had any evidence that this dreaded accommodation of religion by science they didn’t present it.

    The “accomodationist” ruse is a smoke screen for the attempt to intimidate scientists from expressing their personal beliefs outside of the formal substance of science and to intimidate the critics of the new atheists. From the start the new atheism is constructed of just that kind of stuff.

  21. #21 Mike from Ottawa
    February 22, 2011

    I don’t think that Coyne’s or Blackford’s whinging about the tone of their critics is a call for us to STFU …

    Then what is it they want from you? I suppose Coyne’s and Blackford’s posts could just be empty outgassings, but one would hope there would be some actual content.

    You ‘accomodationists’ or ‘faitheists’ tell Coyne et al. they should put their arguments more civily or display a less categorical certainty than they are wont to affect. That’s not telling Coyne et al. to STFU. What do Coyne et al. advise that you do? As near as I can make out the only suggestion they have for you is to stop criticizing them, i.e. STFU on the issue of accomodation.

  22. #22 Verbose Stoic
    February 22, 2011

    Anthony,

    I’m just pointing out what Blackford thinks the starting point was. Gillt clearly doesn’t speak for them, and Blackford was pointing out criticisms — by Mooney and Kirshenbaum — of that review of Coyne’s, and what was going on there. So, again, I don’t think Josh’s comment there was fair to Blackford.

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