Coyne: An example of an arrogant atheist.

If you want an example of a post from an atheist that does indeed reek of arrogance, this post by Jerry Coyne is a prime example:

Basically, the post is about Karl Giberson taking on some of Coyne’s strawmen (he calls it an army of strawmen in a rhetorical flourish that I, generally, don’t really use, but whatever).  I suppose there’s some arrogance in the opening statements, but I’m not concerned about that.  I’m a little concerned that while Coyne had seemed to at least somewhat respect Giberson and think him worth debating — he did it a few times I think — that respect seems to be gone.  This leaves me wondering if there is anyone on any opposing side — so theist or accomodationist — that Coyne respects but that he thinks is just plain wrong.  I can’t think of any, or at least not anyone that he posts about regularly.

To me, this indicates a problem … for Coyne.  I disagree with tons of people.  Well, probably, almost everyone.  I’ve disagreed with every advisor I’ve ever had.  I’ve disagreed with my favourite profs.  And my favourite philosophers.  But I respect most of them.  The best example might be Andy Brook.  We disagree rather pointedly on the details of consciousness and awareness.  I’m a dualist, he isn’t.  He thinks that awareness and consciousness are the same thing, and I don’t.  But I respect because even though I think he’s wrong, I also think he knows all the sides really well, treats all sides fairly, and has good reasons for the position he takes.  Again, I still think he’s wrong, but not unfairly wrong.

The same thing applies to me and atheists.  I can pick out a couple that I at least respect.  Kirth Gersen here, for example, is one that I think is willing to try to understand my position, even if he sometimes goes further than he should.  I’ve had what I think are good comments with Larry Moran and maybe Russell Blackford.

If you find that there are a number of educated and respected people who seem reasonably intelligent on the other side and you can’t find even one that you can respect even when you think they’re wrong, the issue may be with you.

Um, so, now, what was I talking about?  Oh, yeah, the arrogance.  No, the above isn’t my example of it — although it could be a symptom of it — but the example of it is in Coyne’s replies for why he isn’t going to address Giberson.  The first:


“For one thing, I have science to do, even though I have a “simplistic view” of how that science is done.”


Okay, so Jerry — may I call you Jerry?  Maybe I should stick to “Mr. Coyne”.

So, Mr. Coyne, if you have all of that science to do so that you don’t want to delve into the theology and philosophy of the religious issues … why don’t you just do that?  Mr. Coyne, no one really asked you to delve into philosophy.  We didn’t hold a gun to your head and demand that you comment or express an opinion on accomodationism and if science and religion are compatible.  And we certainly didn’t ask you at all what your views on what philosophically inconsistent was and to wax eloquently on why you thought that science and religion were, in fact, so incompatible.

But you did.  And, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.  The more the merrier.  Just as this poor, biology deprived software designer/philosopher gets to comment on evolution and your comments on it — such as when I talked about “What Darwin Got Wrong” and your review of it — you get to comment on philosophy.  Welcome to the fold!  Hope you don’t find the water too cold.

But, see, where the arrogance comes in is when you then run and hide behind “I have to do that more important science thing now.  I’m not interested in, you know, defending that philosophy stuff that I entered into of my own choice, volition and what passes for free will.  I just wanted to toss off some comments and get into some debates to stir things up, and now that people are taking me seriously I’d like to go back to my field now.  Have fun!”.  If you start down a path, you kinda have to stick with it.

But, hey, we all understand.  Classes have started up, you have research to do, and there are things that you place a higher priority on that this.  I can sympathize.  I’m back in classes, too, and still working.  So, if someone demands to know where my review of “What Darwin Got Wrong” is, or when I’m going to finish my critique of “The God Delusion” or start my comments on “50 Voices of Disbelief”, right now I’m going to have to take the non-arrogant option and say “I’m really busy right now, and this is unfortunately low on my list of priorities.  So since I can’t do it right, I’m gonna put it off for a while, at least.”   See, the arrogance is in the attitude that you just can’t be bothered to deal with actual in-depth criticism — and 3 posts will be in-depth, I hope — as opposed to “You know, this is not my main concern at the moment, and I’m too busy to get to it.”

That might be what you meant, but Mr Coyne, that ain’t what ya said.

This would also work better if it wasn’t clear that these issues are, in fact, really, really important to you.  You care about them.   You talk about them a lot on your blog.  But when faced with Giberson taking you seriously, you demure with “I’m gonna do science now.”  You dismiss it … and him.   And that his comments aren’t worth looking at is dismissal.  And that’s arrogant … especially when you do it before they’ve been written.

Now, Mr. Coyne, maybe you’re still annoyed by what you think of as a blindside at the end of that one webcam debate.  And that would be fair, I think.  But if that’s the main reason, then you should say that.  Be a man and admit that you don’t care much for him at the moment and don’t want to get dragged into a debate with him.  But don’t just dismiss it.

Now, the second reason and the second piece of arrogance:


“More important, in the end Giberson has not a shred of evidence supporting his religious beliefs, and even a swarming army of sophisticated theologians can’t change that yawning fact.”


So, here’s what’s going on.  Giberson says “Jerry, [he, I think, can call himJerry] you’ve said some things that are strawmen and really bad arguments.  These arguments are common, so I’m going to demolish them.  Hope you don’t mind!”  and Coyne replies, “Well, you can’t prove God exists anyway.  Nyahhh!”.

Now, let’s take me again.  Let’s look at my reply to Harris’ new morality.  I do have — and did make  — the argument that Harris hasn’t done anything to validate that his empathetic utilitarianism (my term) is right or that he is in any way one of those moral experts that we should listen to.  But I also made comments about the is/ought distinction and why it’s important, and why if he relies on the is he won’t get morality.  So, if someone replied about that to me and I merely replied, “Well, he hasn’t proven his moral view” without either addressing their arguments against my claims or acknowledging and conceding their points, I’d be being inexcusably arrogant.  It would be like saying that their replies to my points don’t matter.  Either I’d be evading good arguments or dismissing them out of hand.

Dismissal without consideration is indeed arrogant.  And that’s what Coyne does here.  Again, he can say “Look, even if I’m wrong it wouldn’t prove that God exists” but then I’d expect Giberson to say “Well, I’m not saying that.  I’m just saying that you’re wrong, and anything that you base on those conclusions is also wrong.”

Coyne has always demonstrated that sort of arrogant dismissal and misinterpretation with his constant “X, therefore Jesus” comments, when much of the time the people he’s using that interpretative formula on are a) not using the reply as an argument for Jesus at all, but just to show that his arguments against religion don’t work and/or b) are actually atheists and so would never conclude “Ergo Jesus” from their arguments.  It’s an arrogant rhetorical tactic that creates a strawman position that he then can use to argue that they have a stronger burden of proof to never have to admit he’s wrong.

Isn’t this the sort of arrogance he doesn’t like from theists?

Oh, and one final note: I concede that at least some theists are arrogant, too.  I dislike both.  But, then, I’m not on anyone’s side.  Why?  Because no one is on my side.

The side, like the cake, is an illusion.

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