They are at it again. Dan Dennett wrote a critical review of Sam Harris’s book on free will and Jerry Coyne tells us that Sam Harris “was both blindsided and hurt by Dan’s tone.” So Coyne rushes to Sam’s defense and lashes out at Dennett:
I am saddened by the many rifts in the atheist community, but this one saddens me the most. Dan’s tone in his original paper was peremptory and snide, and that was unnecessary. This section from Dennett’s review, for instance, is gratuitously nasty (not to me, but to Dawkins):
“[Harris] is not alone among scientists in coming to the conclusion that the ancient idea of free will is not just confused but also a major obstacle to social reform. His brief essay is, however, the most sustained attempt to develop this theme, which can also be found in remarks and essays by such heavyweight scientists as the neuroscientists Wolf Singer and Chris Frith, the psychologists Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom, the physicists Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, and the evolutionary biologists Jerry Coyne and (when he’s not thinking carefully) Richard Dawkins.”
“When he’s not thinking carefully”? Really, Dan? Richard is a longtime friend of yours, and why would you insult him in a way that’s completely unnecessary?
As Sam noted, the whole thing could have been hashed out in a give-and-take using repeated back and forth mini-essays—and without the rancor. And it would have been far more enlightening than this pair of dueling essays. Of course we won’t all agree on things, even the three remaining “Horsemen,” but there was no need for snideness and authority-pulling.
Wow. While that is low key for a bomb-thrower like Coyne, make no mistake about it – Coyne is trying to publicly shame Dennett. My guess is that Coyne is holding back simply because of Dennett’s stature in the New Atheist movement. Given that Coyne is working on an atheist book, he cannot afford to offend too many of Dennett’s fans. But the message is loud and clear – it’s looking like even Dan Dennett is not pure enough for Coyne and Harris’s movement!