Jerry Coyne Attacks Dan Dennett

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!

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5 Responses to Jerry Coyne Attacks Dan Dennett

  1. Kevin says:

    The most ironic part of what Coyne said was “Of course we won’t all agree on things, even the three remaining “Horsemen,” but there was no need for snideness and authority-pulling.”

    If these guys are masters at using reason and evidence to form correct conclusions, why don’t they agree on things? Surely reason and evidence would lead them all to the same conclusions, wouldn’t it? Why is it the only belief that is OBVIOUS from using reason and evidence is that there is no God? How peculiar.

    Also, as I’ve noticed countless times, atheists such as Coyne are superb (in their minds) at going on the offensive against those people who disagree with them about religion, but they get really offended very quickly when those same tactics get turned on them. Coyne even seems surprised that Dennet’s tone is “gratuitously nasty”, even though gratuitously nasty is exactly how Coyne treats those he disagrees with.

    I wish these guys could see how ridiculous they look to people who can actually utilize reason.

  2. Kevin says:

    Reading the original article on Coyne’s blog, I noticed this line in Sam Harris’ response to Dan Dennet: “We agree that human thought and behavior are determined by prior states of the universe and its laws—and that any contributions of indeterminism are completely irrelevant to the question of free will.”

    Is it just me, or does Harris’ beliefs sound remarkably like astrology?

  3. The Deuce says:

    So belief in free will, even a sophistic redefinition of “free will” as offered by Daniel Dennett, is enough to get you called on the carpet… but I presume xenoglossy is still okay?

  4. The Deuce says:

    And what’s wrong with Dennett being mean? Is that prohibited in the Handbook Of Atheist Morality that they pride themselves on not having?

    And why is Coyne trying to “reason” with Dennett using “logic”? Are such abstract, immaterial universals as the logical relationships between propositions supposed to affect Dennett’s behavior in some way? Is Dennett supposed to be some sort of “agent” capable of “grasping” such logical relationships, and thereby reaching a “logical conclusion” and “choosing” to do the “right” thing accordingly?

    The whole point of denying free will is to say that he isn’t, and not holding him responsible for it is supposed to be necessary to “social reform.”

  5. Crude says:

    Echoing Kevin – for a guy who loves to pile on insults where theists are concerned, Coyne has tremendously thin skin.

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