Jerry Coyne Flails Away at Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat provides a very thoughtful response to Jerry Coyne’s anti-religious rant. Coyne must feel threatened by the response, given a) he goes into “rapid response” mode, with a reply already posted on his blog early the same morning and b) his rapid response is nothing more than Coyne stamping his feet on the ground while re-asserting the same arguments. Most telling are the parts Coyne purposely does not quote.

For example, when Coyne tries to defend his convoluted thinking about purpose, he omits a very key point of Douthat’s argument:

Prometheus cannot be at once unbound and unreal; the human will cannot be simultaneously triumphant and imaginary.

It’s true that even if the conscious self is an illusion, human beings would still have purposes in the sense that any organism has purposes, and our movements — all that travel and reading and dining, in Coyne’s case — wouldn’t just be random or indeterminate. But just as nobody would describe a tree growing toward the sun or a bee returning to the hive as “forging their own purposes” in life, so too Coyne’s promethean language about human agency implies a much higher conception of what a human being IS — both in terms of the reality of consciousness and the freedom afforded to it — than his world-picture will allow.

That Coyne omitted this in his “response” and did not address it signals just how weak his position is.

It’s also interesting to note that Coyne files Douthat’s thoughtful reply as “atheist bashing.” That he perceives such a mild, thoughtful reply as “bashing” tells us just how thin-skinned the bomb-thrower is. Given the heavy-handed way that he censors dissenting views from his own blog, I am not surprised he over-reacts to Douthat.

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7 Responses to Jerry Coyne Flails Away at Ross Douthat

  1. dph says:

    That he perceives such a mild, thoughtful reply as “bashing” tells us just how thin-skinned the bomb-thrower is.

    No to mention that he is a pusillanimous “silent banner.” How many of us have simply had our comments stop appearing without explanation while he then allows and (sometimes joins in) further commentary implying that the recently banned (without notice) has, Sir Robin like, “run away.”

  2. Crude says:

    I thought Douthat was tremendously (in fact, way too) gracious with Coyne on this one. He caught Coyne in a serious contradiction: he talks about meaning and purpose, and at the same time is caught up in denying the self and free will. ‘We make our own purposes, and we don’t exist.’

  3. Ron says:

    Interesting. A few days ago, I remember seeing crude draw attention to this exact contradiction on DI.

    And kudos to Douthat and others that have the requisite patience to deal with Coyne. Criticism = “bashing”? What a pathetic little Caesar. I’d much rather argue with a hormonal teenage girl.

  4. Michael says:

    He bans dissenting views from the comments section of his blog. He plays the “atheist as victim” routine, hoping to silence dissenting views by overreacting and accusing them of being bashers. Not surprising, since this is the same person who wrote, “ What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity?” and “it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with religious belief.”

  5. Crude says:

    Interesting. A few days ago, I remember seeing crude draw attention to this exact contradiction on DI.

    Yeah, that went over real well, didn’t it? 😉

    TFBW at here was the one who woke me up to it – you can find one of his comments in the past discussion on this site, and he’s who I was referring to in my first comment. I’ve long known about the intentionality issues, the ‘me’ issues, the argument from reason. But TFBW made me realize, wait a second, these problems apply to ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ too.

  6. TFBW says:

    Is this something you can link to? I’d be interested to see what sort of mayhem I’ve inspired.

    And, speaking of links, the comment of mine to which Crude refers is here.

  7. Ron says:


    Here’s the mayhem you inspired:

    From knee-jerk calumny to tenacious-rummaging-through-online-garbage calumny, it’s a singular and sufficient illustration of how the antithesis of Coyne’s policy (no banning whatsoever of even the most virulent trolls) isn’t a sensible option either.

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