Monday, February 15, 2010


The Sound of One Coyne Clapping

Jerry Coyne February 14, 2010:

It always amuses me when accommodationists, especially the atheistic ones, tell religious people what they're supposed to believe, or where they're supposed to find comfort.
Jerry Coyne February 15, 2010:

Once again we see that modern theology is the art of turning empirical necessities into spiritual virtues. Except for a few dissenters like Augustine and Calvin, the bulk of Christian theology up to the rise of science in the sixteenth century involved seeing the Bible literally—in its entirety. ...

This is, I think, what Dawkins means when he claims that Biblical literalists are the most honest among believers. They don't water down the Bible by picking and choosing what must be true versus what must be metaphor. On what warrant can [professor of Biblical studies Kenyon] Sparks assert that the Biblical account of the origin of plants, animals, and humans is just a metaphor, but the birth of Jesus, well, that occurred via parthenogenesis?

Hehe. Nice one.
I'm no better than the material I have to work with.

The only time I read Coyne - or PZ or Dawkins for that matter - is in posts such as these.
And that's really too bad, but it's what happens when someone blows through the top of my BS meter.
Look, Coyne is, as far as I can tell, a top-notch scientist and worth reading for that part of what he writes. I just bought his book because of that. As a philosopher, not so much. But you can pretty quickly identify which he is doing and skip the philosophy/theology posts if you want, though they have a certain "rubbernecking a wreck" fascination.

PZ is another proposition. Despite occasional excesses, he has a self-deprecating sense of humor, which goes a long way toward blunting the excesses, and when he applies himself he is neither a philosophic illiterate nor as unreasonable as he sometimes sounds to those who do not share his views. His commentariat on the other hand ...
I like how Coyne implies that Augustine and Calvin were somehow marginal dissenters from the main body of Christian tradition! Augustine practically *defines* Christian theology (Catholic and Protestant) from his day forward. Fortunately, there are commenters over there providing some balance.

Re WEIT: I'm several chapters in, and I think it's quite good -- Coyne is hitting the important points. The main criticisms I would make are:
1) My Inner Larry wants to blast his pan-adaptationism.
2) There's a bit too much "linearity" in his depiction of major transitions; it misses the "branching bush" picture. I say this because the "linear" iconography enables certain creationist miscontruals (eg. coverage of the recently-described Polish trackways).
Excellent post. And yes, PZ definitely shows more background in basic philosophy than Coyne does.

I had the same reaction. It's almost as though someone had pointed out to him in passing that Augustine and Calvin weren't biblical literalists, and he's tried to incorporate that data into his existing ideology to show how learned it is.

Anyway, with Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett and Coyne, I think we now have enough atheist theologians that they can start their own divinity school. Although for symmetry's sake it would be nice to have one more person whose name begins with C. Any suggestions?
"Coyne is, as far as I can tell, a top-notch scientist and worth reading for that part of what he writes."
I appreciate that - I really do. And I actually enjoyed PZ's site for a number of years. I wasn't even put off by the wafer incident.
That's what I meant about it being too bad - I did enjoy reading PZ.
But at some point I had to ask myself what I was doing by "rubbernecking a wreck." I realized that some of the barbed comments were pointed at people I knew and respected, not the fundamentalists or creationists or even just uninformed religious people that I saw as the real problem.
I mean, I'm someone who followed the Dover trial daily (between rooting for my White Sox that year) and read every single transcript online. "Monkey Girl" is one of my favorite reads.
So it seemed to me that PZ and his commentariat drew a line in the sand. And - for me and only me - to cross that line and join them meant not respecting some very good people that I know personally.
People who take their kids to the doctor when they're sick and while doing so may pray to a deity that they sometimes doubt exists. Not because they want to facilitate wacko fundamentalists, but because they love their kids and will do anything to make sure they're OK.
That was the line in the sand I felt I had to cross to continue reading that blog and others like them.
So even though no one but me knows it - well, and now anyone who reads this comment - I just didn't feel right about it.
And IMHO no amount of science-related posts was going to entice me to contribute my clicks that in whatever small way contributed to their advertising revenue.
I only ever lurked at those sites - and I'm only one person out of masses - so I'm sure I'm not missed.
But it's what I had to do to feel right about myself.
For what it's worth, that's not a judgement on anyone else who does read them because I realize people have different opinions, different tastes, different tolerance levels and even different purposes for consuming what they consume.
That said, I will shut up about it unless I have something more useful to contribute. :)
The only prominent atheist/antitheist I could find after a thoroughly non-thorough search was the late lamented George Carlin. There's a certain correspondence in their comic potentials as well ... though Carlin's was intentional.
Carlin could probably be canonized. Grayling's middle name starts with C, which is good enough for me.
I find the idea of atheists opening their own divinity school pretty funny, because so many do seem to set themselves up as arbiters on what constitutes legitimate religion. It probably would be a divinity school that the most ardent fundamentalist would want to attend.
"Look, Coyne is, as far as I can tell, a top-notch scientist and worth reading for that part of what he writes. I just bought his book because of that."

Coyne's book is excellent and carries a completely different tone than his blog posts. I reckon 'Why Evolution Is True' could be given to an open-minded creationist (i.e. one of those who has previously taken no interest in this stuff but goes along with what his church has told him because he knows no better) to read without being offensive and with a good chance of being persuasive.
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