Massimo apologizes

November 5, 2010 • 9:38 am

Over at Rationally Speaking, Massimo Pigliucci has tendered a gracious apology to me—and to others—for “making remarks about motives and character that had no logical connection to the substance of the arguments being discussed.”  Indeed, I sometimes took umbrage at his attitude, especially his accusations that I was naive, uncredentialed, and unqualified to discuss philosophy.

But never mind. It’s very nice of Massimo to make this gesture, and of course I accept his apology. I too, will try to temper my stridency (at least toward him!), and to stick purely to the arguments at hand.  It’s inevitable that we’ll have further disagreement, but we both recognize that what’s important in such discussions are not the personalities or the credentials, but the ideas.


45 thoughts on “Massimo apologizes

          1. Jesus is real, he’s back, and he’s a bunch of snakes.

            Wow, way to go off-topic in a totally fascinating manner, Dominic; and Ossicle, that was too funny! Thanks for both links you two.

    1. Are you THE Sean Carroll? The one who did the lectures on dark matter for the Teaching Company? I checked the series out of the library where I work. I was really impressed.

      If you are not THE Sean Carroll, carry on, Sir or Ma’am.

        1. Dr. Carroll, I think many of us here are fans of your work. I particularly enjoyed your essay “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists”.

          Helen, there’s also a Prof. Sean B. Carroll who writes teaches biology at U of Wisconsin and who has written what I hear are very good books on evolutionary biology.

          1. The thing is, and I apologize for it, I’m not that interested in biology. Physics, yes, although even minimal comprehension requires heavy lifting on my part.

            All this being the case, even I find it odd that I like to hang out at Dr. Coyne’s blog. PZ’s, too, for that matter.

        2. It would be both convenient and awesome if the two Sean Carrols would agree to merge into a single scientific super-being, so as to avoid confusion.

  1. That was very graciously done on Massimo’s part, and your acceptance was also quite gentlemanly.

    But what does this do to the “Deep Rifts” meme?

  2. I already wrote Three Cheers for Massimo, now it is time to publish Three Cheers for Jerry!

    After all, what gave Enlightenment its great strength was the conviction that people should be able to participate freely in the same debate, while disagreeing on many things. To be sure, some areas of science, say, systematics at the time when David Hull was writing “Science as a Process”, are sometimes full of sordid personal controversy and party spirit, and similar stories can be told about philosophy etc. etc. All that has not made intellectual progress impossible.
    But one can ask whether it would have been even greater with “more light, less warmth” attitude. And certainly the moral aspects of science and rational study would have been served better.

    Anyway, I praise you both for reviving and rehabilitating the idea that you are parties to the same and illuminating discussion, instead of living in separate intellectual and moral worlds joined together only by mutual hostility.

    Now it is time for the rest of us to be duly inspired by your fine example and become beacons of civility…:)

  3. I think what Massimo says about supernaturalism there is pretty close to what non-accommodationists (to use a catch-all term, for convenience) say. Supernaturalism is too vague to constitute anything like an explanation of any sort, and that’s why supernaturalist religion (as opposed to social religion, religion-as-community) is not compatible with science.

    I commented to that effect on his post.

  4. You’re going to “temper your stridency” only towards Massimo?

    Opportunity lost!

    Of course, Massimo was talking about civility, which I suppose can be distinguished from stridency (which nitpicking is why I usually don’t read blogs), but in any event, I applaud any effort to increase civility.

    I’ve never thought personal attacks increased the persuasiveness of an argument.

    1. I read implicit scare quotes around “stridency”, for being merely forthright about what’s factually true or false is not, in fact, strident.

      In fact, virtually all of the actual stridency in these debates has been employed against non-accommodationist atheists.

    2. Hi Genie! Nice to see you here!

      But I must beg to differ. I don’t want to argue that personal attacks are generally acceptable. Indeed the examples below areparticularly odious cases. However, remember the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? I think that’s an example of personal attacks that were very persuasive. Also the robocalls during the South Carolina election lying about John McCain. And remember the personal attacks against climate scientists? And of course, I need not regale you of all people, about the personal attacks of creationists against evolutionary scientists that are very often persuasive to their constituency.

      I think personal attacks are all too very persuasive. They may not be appropriate and they may be dishonest or fallacious. But ineffective? We humans have a very fallible psychology that often makes personal attacks more persuasive…

  5. Jerry and the other prominent Gnus are owed likewise apologies from a handful of other new atheist bashers, who have been hyperbolically piling-on in the media for years. It’s rather mature of Massimo to apologize, but his offenses against truth and civility were microscopic in comparison to guys like Chris Hedges, Berlinski, D’Souza, et al. It would be nice if they were as classy and self-aware as Pigliucci.

    1. If they were, they wouldn’t have written what they did in the first place. The level of vulgar scolding and breezy indifference to evidence in Hedges’s foul book is beyond belief.

    2. I read Hedges’ book on New Atheism and it is definitely an outlier. The other books I’ve read by him were spectacular: Empire of Illusion, American Fascists, and War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. The latter won the Pulitzer Prize. They present a chilling assessment of our modern society, and are (I think) essential to understanding the dangers which lie ahead of us.

      Hedges has lived a hard life as a war correspondent, and he is particularly sensitive to recognizing the casual demonization of one group by another which undergirds many societal problems. He worries that New Atheism engages in such dehumanization of its opponents. There are, after all, a lot of fucking idiot New Atheists out there, but they are nothing like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Stenger, Coyne, Benson, et al. At least that is my guess of where Hedges gets his data: Internet forums, blogs, newsgroups, etc.

      Hedges is an atheist with a masters of divinity from the ultra-liberal Harvard Divinity School. His father was an ultra-liberal minister. I assume this is another source of his bias.

      His polemic on New Atheism has nothing to do with his other books. But I doubt many New Atheists will read them, which is unfortunate. American Fascists utterly demolishes the Christian right, and it contains just the information that New Atheists would be interested to know.

      1. I read Hedges’ book on New Atheism and it is definitely an outlier.


        He worries that New Atheism engages in such dehumanization of its opponents. There are, after all, a lot of fucking idiot New Atheists out there, but they are nothing like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Stenger, Coyne, Benson, et al. At least that is my guess of where Hedges gets his data: Internet forums, blogs, newsgroups, etc.

        This doesn’t add up. Are you sure you read Hedges’ book on new atheism? He has specifically stated that he wrote the book as a kind of formal reaction to his public debates with Harris and Hitchens. Throughout the book, it is abundantly clear that he is critiquing (what he sees as) the most dangerous ideas as expressed in the work of the most prominent new atheists—Harris, Hitch, Dawkins, et al.—not freakin’ Internet forums. No one who actually read the book can come away thinking that Hedges approves of the new atheists you named (he quotes some of them quite disapprovingly!), so what gives?

      2. The biggest fault of Hedges’ book is his constant assertion that New Atheists have a belief in “collective moral progress”. Religious people stand in the way of our rationalist Utopia, and they deserve to be dehumanized for it. That’s the contention, and it is far from convincing. From what I can see, New Atheists simply advocate for more rationality in an irrational world. I’ve come across no such Utopian visions in any of the major New Atheist writings.

        I don’t know why Hedges believes this. He writes as if there is some mass movement of atheists clamoring for a Brave New World of rationalism. I said that I guessed where Hedges gets his data. One place is the Internet, where the kind of dehumanization he mentions is easy to find. Just a few weeks ago on this very blog someone said that he had more empathy for killed goats than for killed religious persons. As a joke the comment is even more horrific. This poor perception of New Atheism may be attributable to selective memory and selective quoting of psychopaths on the Internet. Again, that’s only my guess. I don’t know where one would find atheist fools in large numbers other than the Internet.

        Of course I never said Hedges approves of anyone. Of all his bluster, he does say one thing which is right. It’s a narrow point which is difficult to isolate, however. He speaks out against the strain of neo-conservatism espoused by Hitchens. It’s a complex issue which could take up pages, so I’ll just state my position: neocons are immoral and the invasion of Iraq was immoral.

        1. The biggest fault of Hedges’ book is his constant assertion that New Atheists have a belief in “collective moral progress”.

          I don’t think so, I think by far the biggest fault is what I mentioned – the steady, relentless, evidence-free, vulgar railing and abuse.

  6. New Scientist has nothing on this here group of turn-coats. I’ve opened my browser to the cats page and its turned into a basket full of kittens. Simply disgraceful.

  7. jerry,
    very good to see you and massimo will now try to keep it civil and in honour of this new agreement 🙂 i would like you and him to have a blog discussion on the disagreement both of you have over evolution. (species concept,allopatric speciation, adequacy of Modern Synthesis of the 1930s and ’40s, etc.) i have a long standing interest in getting biologist to write blogs describing the technical nature of the disputes happening in research biology that will illustrate what the issues in biology are outside of intelligent design or creationism.
    in addition i would like to know what are your thoughts on Arlin Stoltzfus 8 part post @
    and further comments on the work of Michael Lynch and Constructive Neutral Evolution.

  8. This is not in the spirit of reconciliation that seems to prevail for now, but I’ll have to point out that there is one thing in Massimo’s piece that I find irritating, coming from a trained philosopher. He says, in what is certainly more than an offhand remark, “I think that plumbing is not science”.

    Jerry has of course made a reference to plumbing and rational inquiry on this blog once or twice, but nobody has ever said that plumbing was science (narrowly construed). Plus, from a philosopher one would have kind of expected a certain awareness that there are different possible definitions for ‘science’, a preference for one or the other of which might actually make a large difference in your interpretation of the plumbing example.

    I do not really understand how you can overlook that, or think that such a distinction is simply not that important for the discussion.

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