New Atheist Leader Excuses Terrorist

Jerry Coyne argues that Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should not be held morally responsible for his terrorism. This is where New Atheism leads……..

At this moment, a jury in Boston is weighing imposing a federal death penalty on 21-year-old Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after he was convicted on all 30 criminal counts. […]the Boston Globe notes, Tsarnaev’s circumstances are special since the bombing is seen as a terrorist act, a public one, and a gory one. He may well be sentenced to death, and actually executed. Attorney General Eric Holder made the decision to request the death penalty, and he’s supported by several of the maimed victims or relatives of those who died.
[….]
Defense attorneys are arguing that Tsarnaev did not act independently, but was under the sway of his older brother Tamerlan. This is what they must argue to avoid execution, and I’m firmly on their side. But their argument could go further: Tsarnaev was acting under the influence of his genes and his environment, of which Tamerlan was a part, and he had no choice other than to plant the bombs. [….] All criminals have the same extenuating circumstance: they had no choice. In what sense, then, are murderers “morally” responsible for what they did?
[…..]
The fault, dear Brutus, is indeed in our stars—or rather in our genes and our circumstances. Tsarnaev was simply unlucky in what his parents and his life vouchsafed him, and he wound up an odious and murderous person. For that he should be put away for life, as the possibility of rehabilitation seems slim. But let’s not pretend that he could have done anything other than place those bombs.

The entire blog entry is filled with incoherent and inconsistent claims. I’ll try to explain when I get the time, but then again, we can’t really hold Jerry Coyne intellectually responsible for his claims, now can we? Let’s not pretend that he could have done anything other than write that blog entry, right?

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17 Responses to New Atheist Leader Excuses Terrorist

  1. You have got to be kidding me. You have GOT to be KIDDING me. If I read an atheist character in a story say this, I would think him a straw man. But here it is from the horse’s mouth. Let it be said in Coyne’s favor, he’s honest with the follow-through of his naturalism (that we’re meat puppets) and honest in his expression of it. It’s catastrophically stupid, a host of the saints and sages of classical and medieval philosophy are ROFLOLing in paradise, but at least it’s out in the open.

    I’d be interested to see Coyne make his charge against religion dance on its bloody trunk, having hacked off its legs with posts like this. If I am merely a puppet of my genes and environment and am incurably religious as a result, then what the hell good does all his arguing do? Separating the wheat from the chaff, the smart from the dumb, the enlightened from the groundlings so his self-appointed screw-you-Dad eloi can get a dopamine fix? Would any and all answers of his just boil down to “I don’t have a choice. I’m a product of my genes, environment, prejudices, and sweaty Beatles-induced revelation that there is no God (and by the way the walls are fracking BROWN!), so I have to argue against you idiots until I’m worm feed”? I’m sure a New Atheist has an answer to that that sounds good to him, I just haven’t heard it.

    I’ve been lurking here for a good many moons now. The New Atheists have mainly just amused me, and I’ve enjoyed your takedowns of them. This one ejaculation of Coyne’s, while not unexpected given his past behavior, is still beyond the pale, my mind is reeling from the hammer of stupidity only an uneducated academic can bring down, but this too shall pass. Thanks for your public service Mike.

  2. I’m not sure this is so much a consequece of Jerry Coyne’s ‘new atheism’ as it is a consequence of his belief in determinism. (As an aside, I find the term ‘new atheism’ to be so vague as to be useless.) Atheism doesn’t entail determinism; there are atheists who are libertarians and atheists who are compatibilists.

    I’m not a determinist, but I would have responded to Coyne in a different way. We can frame it as a dilemma. Are Coyne’s comments directed to fellow determinists? If yes, then they are just determined to do whatever it is they will do and they can’t be held responsible for their belief (if they have the belief) that the bomber deserves execution. If, on the other hand, his comments are directed towards compatibilists or libertarians, I don’t think they will find his remarks in the least bit persuasive.

    I might have been willing to support life in prison for the bomber if there were reason to believe the bomber were mentally ill or incompetent. Since the defense (I assume) didn’t make that argument, it seems to me that his crime would be ‘exhibit a’ for why we have the death penalty: if we are not going to execute him, then who is worthy of the death penalty?

    My $0.02 worth. Thanks for reading.

  3. UpstateIslandersFan says:

    What’s Jerry Coyne’s deal in real life? Does he have hobbies, a pet or a nice woman in his life, anything to give him meaning asides from that stupid blog of his. If you’re going to excuse one bad behavior based on a naturalist argument, you might as well excuse them all. I certainly don’t want Tsarnaev to die. Still, how does Jerry justify caring about anyone or anything. If humans simply dance on the strings of fate like that, they’re really no different from broomsticks.

  4. TFBW says:

    Determinist Coyne
    Begs us for leniency
    Like we have a choice

  5. mechanar says:

    @Jeffery Jay Lowder yes actually it is, see new atheism holds on to the premise that EVERYTHING in the universe can be explained with the scientific method. The libertarians how hold the same view but still claim there is a self that has free will are taking a dump on everything atheism stands for, you cant have it both ways you cant say on the one hand Everything can be explained by science and the at the same time say there is something that works beyond science. And it is impossible to claim free will exists but can also explained by science because if it can be explained it can be predicted hence determinism. Atheism does not leave any room for free will. And it only gets worse for atheism, because if free will exists than materialism can only be wrong to be fair that would not mean that god exists but it makes it once again more plausible and renders most of atheist philosophy as irrelevant.

  6. Michael says:

    I’m not sure this is so much a consequece of Jerry Coyne’s ‘new atheism’ as it is a consequence of his belief in determinism. (As an aside, I find the term ‘new atheism’ to be so vague as to be useless.) Atheism doesn’t entail determinism; there are atheists who are libertarians and atheists who are compatibilists.

    This may be true in a purely logical sense, but I am focused on the New Atheist movement. I don’t find the term to be that vague and it is useful in distinguishing the anti-religious, activist atheists from the person who is merely an atheist. In this example, the New Atheism does indeed seem to be correlated with determinism given that both Coyne and Harris push determinism, along with their many fans. Dawkins and Krauss also seem to agree. Dennett and his fans appear to be the outliers.

    When you are dealing with movements, it’s the loud and popular voices who get to define it and shape public perception. And thanks to people like Coyne and Harris, they are defining New Atheism as something that entails determinism.

  7. mattdillahunty says:

    The author misrepresents Coyne’s position and some of the commenters follow suit.

    He’s not arguing to excuse the act or free the actor. He specifically advocates a life sentence for this incident. Coyne’s comments focus on changing the way we consider and discuss such crimes, coupled with his opposition to the death penalty.

    To respin this as if he’s excusing terrorism is bad enough, but to lay this straw man at the feet of “new atheism” tells us fast more about the author of this post than it does about Coyne or atheism (new or otherwise).

  8. David says:

    Acting on genes? Good grief, we all have the same genes, it is called sin. That doesn’t mean he should get a pass. Good grief….

  9. David says:

    The problem is death is the proper sentence for this crime. Coyne is giving him a pass by advocating for him to live.

  10. Michael says:

    He’s not arguing to excuse the act or free the actor.

    That’s not how I see it. Coyne argues, “The fault, dear Brutus, is indeed in our stars—or rather in our genes and our circumstances. Tsarnaev was simply unlucky in what his parents and his life vouchsafed him, and he wound up an odious and murderous person.” Since the crimes are not Tsarnaev’s fault, he has been excused of the crimes.

    He specifically advocates a life sentence for this incident.

    I know. Coyne wants to lock Tsarnaev up for life, even though it’s not Tsarnaev’s fault. Coyne rationalizes this as being for the good of society. The hive mentality. Totalitarian regimes use the same logic.

  11. TFBW says:

    Coyne’s problem is that he’s conflating issues. The two issues being conflated are (1) the question of determinism and its implication of moral responsibility, and (2) the question of whether death or imprisonment is more appropriate in this case. He’s using determinism to argue against the death penalty, specifically, but that’s inappropriate.

    If we grant determinism and agree that this renders moral responsibility null and void, then this still leaves the possibility that the perpetrator should be dealt with in some manner for the safety of society. In this case, the sentence is not intended as “punishment”, but as a safety measure for the rest of us (which is a pretty damn dehumanising attitude — it puts the perpetrator on a par with toxic waste — but that’s determinism for you). The options open to us in this case are the same as they would be if the sentence were punitive: death or imprisonment.

    Coyne prefers imprisonment, but there’s nothing in determinism as such to render “kill him” an inappropriate response. Coyne is opposed to the death sentence as a matter of personal preference. He thinks he’s justifying this stance with his determinism shtick, but it’s a non sequitur.

  12. makagutu says:

    @mechanar I don’t think you are being honest when you write

    see new atheism holds on to the premise that EVERYTHING in the universe can be explained with the scientific method.

    Nobody claims we are going to explain why some people cry at the sight of a beautiful picture.
    And I don’t know how you get to
    Atheism does not leave any room for free will. And it only gets worse for atheism, because if free will exists than materialism can only be wrong to be fair that would not mean that god exists but it makes it once again more plausible and renders most of atheist philosophy as irrelevant.
    since atheism deals with only a single matter. A lack of belief and no more. I know of atheists who believe in freewill.

    and mattdillahunty is right in his comments. The author of this post misrepresents Jerry’s position and most of those commenting join in the same band.

    There is nothing in the determinism that says society should not protect itself. What we are advocating is that it is time we start re-looking at our justice systems. A new thinking of how we deal with offenders.

    And what really is new atheism and who made Jerry a leader. And for those asking if he has a hobby what has that got to do with the soundness of his argument?

  13. Michael says:

    and mattdillahunty is right in his comments. The author of this post misrepresents Jerry’s position

    That’s not how I see it. Coyne argues, “The fault, dear Brutus, is indeed in our stars—or rather in our genes and our circumstances. Tsarnaev was simply unlucky in what his parents and his life vouchsafed him, and he wound up an odious and murderous person.” Since the crimes are not Tsarnaev’s fault, he has been excused of the crimes.

    What we are advocating is that it is time we start re-looking at our justice systems. A new thinking of how we deal with offenders.

    We? It is time for the free will denialists to explain how they want to change the justice system. There is nothing to stop them from spelling out, in detail, what the deterministic justice system should look like. So…..do it.

    And what really is new atheism and who made Jerry a leader.

    Google is your friend. From Wiki:

    New Atheism is a social and political movement in favour of atheism and secularism promoted by a collection of modern atheist writers

    and

    While The Four Horsemen are arguably the foremost proponents of the New Atheism, there are a number of other current, notable New Atheists including: Lawrence M. Krauss (author of A Universe from Nothing[28]), Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution is True[29] and complementary blog[30] which specifically includes polemics against topical religious issues),

  14. makagutu says:

    Michael, how does foremost proponent translate to leader? Who does he lead?
    And who refers to atheists as new atheists? Are they the atheists themselves or someone else? Who came up with the idea of new atheism?
    I will spell it out when I have time. It is not in my current list of priorities

  15. TFBW says:

    makagutu, you have a lot of rapid-fire questions and no answers. In the interests of keeping our respective efforts symmetrical, I suggest you go read Wikipedia on New Atheism for your response. As for who Coyne leads, that would be his followers. Ask a pedantic question, get a flippant answer.

  16. Kevin says:

    A leader is not necessarily someone who issues orders and people obey. A leader is also someone of high profile who inspires others on a certain issue. There’s actually another Wiki article on leadership that includes the following: “A leader is a person who influences a group of people towards a specific result. It is not dependent on title or formal authority.”

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