Here is a video of Jerry Coyne giving a lecture on his “Incompatibility” argument. I suspect this lecture contains some of the core arguments of his upcoming book and, if so, his book will be premised on a set of incredibly weak arguments that will be easy to refute. However, I’d like you to focus on the lecture beginning at 19:02, as you will see just how rigorous Coyne can be when handling the evidence. Watch until 19:59.
Did you catch that? Coyne has a Power Point slide of that shows three books in the following order: Dawkin’s God Delusion on the left, Harris’s End of Faith in the middle, and Hitchen’s book on the right.
While showing this slide, Coyne says:
It’s the rise of New Atheism, which started with Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion, which I think was 2006, then Sam Harris’s book, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett.
Let me repeat that quote by adding points of emphasis:
It’s the rise of New Atheism, which started with Richard Dawkins‘ God Delusion, which I think was 2006, then Sam Harris’s book, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett.
Whoa! Coyne just credited Dawkins with the “rise of New Atheism” in 2006. And then Sam Harris came along. Yet this is factually wrong. Harris wrote his book in 2004 and is the one who is thus credited with the rise of New Atheism. Dawkins came along in 2006. How could Coyne not know this basic fact? It’s New Atheism 101. At the very least, it demonstrates Coyne has a very superficial interest in the history of his beloved movement. The cynic might argue Coyne to trying push Harris aside given his recent interest in promoting mysticism and drugs.
But it gets worse.
Coyne tries to further rewrite history:
These books have an explicitly scientific cast to many of them. Richard is a scientist, Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, Christopher Hitchens has a great respect for, and writes about science. The rise of New Atheism is connected deeply with a rise in the scientific attitude towards things and also an explicit call for evidence.
Where to begin?
First, if New Atheists are so deeply connected with a scientific attitude toward things, why does Coyne rewrite history to make it look like the rise of New Atheism began with Dawkins’ book. Is the “scientific attitude” really so careless when it comes to history?
Second, do these books really have a “scientific cast?” Do they really demonstrate a “scientific attitude?” They strike me as having an apologetic cast, with an apologetic attitude. That is, they begin with a conclusion and the book is all about gathering arguments/evidence to support that conclusion. But that is confirmation bias, not a scientific attitude.
Third, Coyne fudges the data to support his point. He claims Dawkins is a scientist. Okay, I won’t quibble too much about that, even though it would be more accurate to describe Dawkins as an author of popular science books about Darwinian evolution.
But Harris as a neuroscientist? Has was not a neuroscientist when he wrote his book in 2004. He eventually got a PhD in Neuroscience five years later and then immediately afterward abandoned science to run his own private think tank and sell books.
And Hitchens? Are you kidding me? He has a great respect for, and writes about science? This is hilarious. I’m surprised Coyne did not mention that Hitch had a poster of Carl Sagan in his bedroom and liked to watch the SciFi channel.
But seriously, according to Wiki, Hitchens is described as follows:
Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was an English author, polemicist, debater, and journalist.
He contributed to New Statesman, The Nation, The Atlantic, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement and Vanity Fair. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor and co-editor of over thirty books, including five collections of essays, on a range of subjects, including politics, literature and religion.
As you can see, Hitchens was a author and journalist who liked to write on politics, literature, and religion. He was not even a science writer.
As for Dennett, he does not even get a mention – he is a philosopher.
If New Atheism was truly born of this “scientific attitude,” then how do we explain the fact that the four books from the Four Horsemen were written by a popular science author, someone with a BA in philosophy who had previously traveled the world to meditate, a political journalist, and a philosopher. If Coyne’s point was valid, we would expect those authors to have been members of highly respected scientific organizations and research universities, with extensive publication records. Instead, we get this rag-tag team of people on the periphery of science.
Coyne is simply trying to rewrite history to make it appear as if New Atheism is all about people who love science and, as a consquence of this great love for science, find themselves in opposition to religion. In reality, if the rise of New Atheism is connected deeply anything, it is with hostility against religion and religious people; it is a sustained emotional reaction to 9/11 and thus comes with an emotional, not scientific, attitude. New Atheism is not built around any “explicit call for evidence.” It is built around the rallying cry, “We must get rid of religion.”