Thursday, August 27, 2009
Jerry Coyne on the New Yorker piece by James Wood — "God in the Quad":
[Quoting Wood] What is most repellent about the new atheism is its intolerant certainty; it is always noon in Dawkins's world, and the sun of science and liberal positivism is shining brassily, casting no shadow. [End quote]
Well, what are some examples of the "intolerant certainty"? (Wood gives none.)
I'm so sorry, Baby Bear. All we've got here are hordes of triumphal atheists who think the whole enterprise of religion is hairy effin' bollocks, and we aren't at all sad about our loss of faith, a loss that we've found liberating and joyous. The Goldilocks of the 21st century are going to eat all your porridge, romp on your furniture, and turn all three of you out of the house to live in a nice wildlife preserve, where you belong. Won't that be lovely? Try not to eat each other, but don't expect the humans to think you are members of modern civilization.
I think Jerry Coyne should admit that PZ Myers and his allies are trying to be intolerant. PZ's said that himself. The real question is whether that's an approach that should be taken.
I can see why some people are concerned that the intolerance for religious deference will shift into a dogmatic certainty which will poison the dialogue. However, I'm not sure that this is happening, or that this is even likely to occur.
Personally, I somewhat agree and disagree with Harris et al., though I am sympathetic to the reasons for their approach.
I agree that atheists should not have tolerance for any excessive deference to religion, but I do believe that a basic amount of respect for other people should be observed, which often is not remembered by some of the more vocal public atheists. Some tend to conflate intolerance for the deferential treatment of religion with intolerance for all forms of religion, which is not at all helpful.
Why should anyone be entirely intolerant of religion? I think that is nonsense. However, I understand the evolution of the ideas underlying the approach advocated by PZ Myers and others.
I support ridicule as a tool to fight misunderstanding of atheists, which PZ Myers appears to be doing in connection with the Wood article. Wood's statements are far enough off the mark, in my opinion, to justify ridicule.
We're all adults; what is wrong with that? Wood should be prepared for criticism.
Yes, sometimes I think PZ takes his words and tone too far, but I think he needs to go farther sometimes than a lot of people realize. Some things deserve the kind of treatment that PZ gives them.
However, I think you are right that Coyne has a blind spot, and this is why I am thankful that you are keeping your eye on the issues. I do appreciate your thinking.
I am about the last person to have the right to condemn ridicule as a rhetorical ploy. But don't try to blow smoke to the effect that you are not doing it. That's separate and apart from the question of whether your opponent deserves ridicule.
Every bad argument deserves a knuckle-rapping. (Plus, my sense of humor just loved the counterpoint.)
I'm defending Myers' right to make such a use of ridicule.
I appreciate your efforts to straighten things out. I just worry about possible backlash in the form of Wood's musings.
Yes, people think Myers is "intolerant", but I think most of the time, his use of ridicule is appropriate.
In my opinion, if you blatantly misrepresent or miscast someone or something, then any ridicule Myers can spare is justified.
I regret that Coyne is hiding that, and I'm not trying to hide it. But I'm not ashamed of it, either. Do I think PZ takes it too far sometimes? Yes. Do I think complaints about his actions are often unjustified or overexaggerated? Yes. It's not cut and dried.
Actually I think that his remark "what's wrong with it being sunny?" (which reminds me of Nigel Tufnel's line in Spinal Tap "What's wrong with being sexy?") gets to the huge communication problem between the so-called Two Cultures. Reifying "enlightenment" means repressing the logical fact that every illumination must cast a shadow. Coyne doesn't even notice that this--and not any inherent criticism of optimism--is Wood's point.
I understood that. Sorry if I made it sound like I was disagreeing with you ... I wasn't.