Gnus can be gnice!

I see I iz going to have to pwn Josh Rosenau twice today.  I seem to remember that when Josh went off on his honeymoon, he promised to return a kindler, gentler man, no longer interested in going after Gnu Atheists since he had grown bored with them.  Sadly, that resolution instantly went by the board, and the man has returned to cranking out his same long, muddled posts.  They often remind me of what H. L. Mencken wrote about Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class: “Well, what have we here? What does this appalling salvo of rhetorical artillery signify? What was the sweating professor trying to say . . .a cent’s worth of information wrapped in a bale of polysyllables.” (That review, by the way, is one of the funniest I’ve ever read.)

Having read my post from last Sunday, in which I discussed—civilly!—science and religion with a reading group at Chicago’s First United Methodist Church,  Rosenau has somehow concluded that I’m an accommodationist!  In his snarky post, appropriately called “Minor Coyne snark,” Rosenau manages to make five errors of understanding in only three paragraphs.

Fortunately, I don’t have to correct them because Brother Blackford has already done so over at Metamagician, in a post called “‘Gnu atheist’ does not mean ‘nasty’; accommodationist does not mean ‘nice’.”  Russell even reproduces my response to Josh’s post, which I put as a comment below the church post.  Russell’s conclusion:

But the real take home point is that accommodationism is not necessarily “nice”. As Rosenau demonstrates by example, accommodationists can be as snarky, unfair, and obsessed with scoring cheap points as anyone else. And those of us in the broadly anti-accommodationist camp, who see a genuine and serious difficulty in reconciling a worldview based on science and reason with worldviews based on religion, are not thereby nasty. I see nothing in Jerry’s original post that recants his anti-accommodationist position or shows him backing away from it in his dealings with liberal Methodists. What I see is a further demonstration, if one were needed, that anti-accommodationist positions can be as careful, subtle, and, alas yes, “nuanced” as any other intellectual positions.

When I spoke to a group of progressive evangelicals last year – a group nowhere near as theologically liberal as the group Jerry met with – I had much to say in their praise. That doesn’t mean that I thereby turned into an accommodationist. It means that I give credit where it’s due, as Jerry did.

What really pisses me off about Rosenau’s approach is its “heads-I-win-tails-you-lose” mentality. If we show the slightest degree of aggression towards the religious, we are attacked for being, well, basically, nasty. If we are polite, thoughtful, and give credit where it’s due, we’re accused of abandoning our substantive positions. This is plain unfair. It stinks like the proverbial dead cat.

(Umm. . .did we need that dead cat simile?)

I think some demon has taken over Josh, making him obsessively peruse my website and write long posts about my supposed failures.  I’m a bit mystified by this obsession. But this latest post, in which Josh claims that I’m his brother in accommodationism because I talked nicely to Methodists (while firmly maintaining my atheist views), is particularly bizarre.

In response, I can’t help returning snark for snark and posting a Rosenau buzzkill sent to me by an alert reader.  (If you don’t know buzzkills, go here; they’re hilarious.)


  1. Rieux
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I admit, this Gnu wasn’t very gnice on Rosenau’s comment thread last night. Oh, well.

  2. Kevin
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    He’s probably made because you sell more books than he does.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Proofreedign iz ur frend.


      11 words, 1 error. Egad.

      • daveau
        Posted February 1, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        11 words, 10 non-errors. That’s still an ‘A’.

        • Rob
          Posted February 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          You never had my English teacher. A single misplaced or forgotten comma could cost you 25%.

  3. SLC
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I am afraid that brother Rosenau is just pimping for a Templeton fellowship, like his buddy, Chris Mooney.

  4. Saikat Biswas
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    As for me, I pretty much don’t care anything he has to say on pretty much anything he chooses to anymore. It’s torture to even read his posts. They’re so utterly devoid of substance and succinctness that the only thing worth some admiration is the utter consistency with which he upholds these standards.

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I agree, the only reason I actually paid attention to Josh’s post was because his take on Jerry’s post was so different from mine (and commenters here). I like to make sure I stay open to other ideas and rule out those that are crazy.

      Josh continues to lack reading comprehension in his long follow up to Jerry’s post. Here’s a quote:

      The section of Coyne’s that I quoted above looks like it was written by someone wrestling with an important question, a question I answered a few years ago partly through wrestling with this same issue of certainty. The question Coyne seems to be asking himself is: are the members of First United Methodist of Chicago in need of deconversion? Asked another way: if every religious person were religious in the manner of the Methodists he met, would he still be justified in seeking to eradicate religion?

      Not to put too fine a point on it, but he seems to be wrestling with the possibility that the accommodationist position may not be entirely wrong, that some churches may be legitimate allies against fundamentalism and superstition and various harmful forms of woo. Not that he’d go whole hog accommodationist (whatever that means!), but he may have seen a glimpse of where we’re coming from.

      He still deluded.

  5. Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Is anybody else struck by the fact that Josh fails to understand the term that defines the very position he espouses?



    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      I agree he misunderstands accomodationist, but did he actually come up with that term?
      Not in his defense, but must we use labels? We all hate “new atheist” (of course, making it gnu atheist is kind of fun).

      • Marella
        Posted February 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        We hate ‘New atheists’ because it’s mistaken, we’re not new at all. Accomodationists are actually trying to accomodate religion, do they complain about it? I don’t spend much time reading their stuff, too boring.

  6. Sigmund
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    His last six posts have included four posts attacking atheists; two about Jerry – new one today, one about Sam Harris and one particularly nasty post attacking Ayaan Hirsi Ali (notable for all the nice religious folk lining up in the comments for their turn to throw stones at her).

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Really. I read that Hirsi Ali post and comments yesterday and felt quite ill. What a crew.

      • Saikat Biswas
        Posted February 1, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Yeah, I commented too. What a waste!

      • SaintStephen
        Posted February 2, 2011 at 12:23 am | Permalink

        Reading those sentences containing the verboten word “bitch” is what made me ill.

        And on a science blog. Oy gevalt.

  7. Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Coyne’s got a flea.

  8. Matt Penfold
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Some really does need to teach Rosenau how to write more concisely.

    At the same time maybe he could be taught the fundamentals of intellectual honesty, since he clearly has no grasp of the concept.

    • AJ
      Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      I’m always left with impression of being drowned in mush when reading him.

      Galt’s big speech is a less tortuous to read.

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      It’s sort of to his advantage, this “pile-it-on” method: use as many words as you can, so that anyone who wishes to refute you will need two hands and a shovel.

  9. MosesZD
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Wow. I forgot about this guy… I used to read him a lot when the creatards were trying to take over Kansas… Once that ended, I drifted away…

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Ain’t you the lucky one.

      He used to be OK, not brilliant but OK. He then went to work for the NCSE and something happened.

      He now gets paid to miss the point, so it no surprise when he does. What is surprising is just how good at missing the point he is.

      • Saikat Biswas
        Posted February 1, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Misses the point, takes the wrong line and skims over the surface. Consistently three-dimensional.

  10. Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    What Russell said.

    But the real take home point is that accommodationism is not necessarily “nice”. As Rosenau demonstrates by example, accommodationists can be as snarky, unfair, and obsessed with scoring cheap points as anyone else.

    Not only is not necessarily; more like almost never is. Not only can be; more like pretty much always is.

    I really can’t think of anyone in the “ew new atheists” camp who is “nice” when saying “ew” – nice in the sense of, at least, fair. They all, at a minimum, misrepresent or apply different standards or both. They often do that and more.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Remember that to Rosenau it is all politics.

      Which makes it worse if anything.

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      What seems to define the Gnus is the question, “But is it true?” Dawkins, PeZe Meyerese, Coyne — all repeatedly ask exactly that question.

      The accommodationists are trying to bolster their ranks by wining converts, mostly by preaching the theological position that the Theory of Evolution is compatible with certain liberal Biblical interpretations. In order to win such converts, they must befriend those they wish to convert. Adopting a strategy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is an obvious tack to take, and easily explains the hypocrisy we often see from the accommodationists.



      • Sajanas
        Posted February 1, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Do they actually win any converts though? It didn’t take me long to go through the process of:

        1) Being interested in Science, and realizing that it was an accurate depiction of the world.
        2) Disbelieving the parts of the Bible that were obviously scientifically untrue, and didn’t make me feel good (Noah, Genesis).
        3) Disbelieving the parts of the bible that were obviously scientifically untrue that did made me feel good (Jesus, God, the afterlife).

        Accomodationism seems to say, stop at 2), and keep what makes you feel good. But it really doesn’t fit intellectually, since the stuff wrong with Genesis is also wrong with the NT. Its just doublethink.

  11. bric
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    “I’m a Gnu
    I’m a Gnu
    The g-nicest work of g-nature in the zoo
    I’m a Gnu
    How do you do
    You really ought to k-now w-ho’s w-ho
    I’m a Gnu
    Spelt G-N-U
    I’m g-not a Camel or a Kangaroo
    So let me introduce
    I’m g-neither man nor moose
    Oh g-no g-no g-no I’m a Gnu”

    (Michael Flanders / Donald Swann)1960

    • TheBlackCat
      Posted February 1, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I once worked in a newspaper run by talking animals. the gnus were in charge of the headline department. They paid a lot. You can’t imagine how much newspaper headline gnus pay per headline.

      (it is even worse if you read it aloud)

      -From Jokes to Read in the Dark

    • Marella
      Posted February 1, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      This has been one of my favourite songs for many years. The g-nicest work of g-nature in the zoo indeed!

      Gnus are g-nice.

  12. madamX
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    “Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain”

  13. Posted February 1, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Does this guy, Josh Rosenau, still have a job? He really does seem dreadfully incompetent. I liked the comment by someone who calls himself Kyuss:

    “Man, why do you even bother? Jerry Coyne humbles you every single time you write this vapid crap.”

    Well, he’s just taken another nose dive. You’d think he’d learn from past experience!

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Yuh he has a job, and he thinks (or says he thinks) Jerry is “telling him how to do his job,” and that really annoys him, so he has to pitch fits at Jerry every few minutes to relieve his feelings.

      Jerry of course is not “telling him how to do his job” – and even if he were, that “my job” nonsense is not a get out of jail free card. Lots of people have “jobs” that do a lot of harm; the rest of us get to say so. If Josh’s “job” is to bullshit people, other people get to say that’s a bad thing to do. (I don’t think it is Josh’s “job” is to bullshit people. But maybe he does; I dunno.)

  14. bsk
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    God, writing style has improved a shitload since the early 20th century. Even Mencken comes across as horribly turgid to me 🙂

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      Ever read any Jane Austen? Not turgid. The opposite of turgid.

      • Posted February 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        “Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society;…”

        …just substitute Mr. Rosenau there for Mr. Collins.

        *Zinged* by Jane Austen 😉

  15. Posted February 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink


    For an accomodationist, Rosenau isn’t very, um, accomodating of data that fall outside his narrow behavioural parameters:

    Nice Accomodationist: everyone should be like us, all the time, regardless of specific stimulus. As we, the Nice, are the behavioural benchmark, anyone who finds fault with our arguments, however reasonably & gently they may express it, is instantly found to be a Gnasty Gnu (GG).

    Gnasty Gnu: acceptable behaviour but only because it’s expected 100% of the time; they’re ALL LIKE THAT, the big MEANIES, leave Aunty Clara-on-her-deathbed’s Jesus ALONE.

    Gnasty Accomodationist: this is the standard response to GGs, justified because Gnus are ALWAYS so Gnasty. As GG’s NEVER make any substantive arguments or reasoned criticisms, we are also justified in ignoring specific GG points as well as entire articles, posts and books. Reading and comprehension of same presents significant obstacles to properly expressing teh Gnasty.

    Nice Gnu: ?DOES NOT COMPUTE? Gnu is being NICE to B’leevers! It is impossible for a Gnu to be Nice! Only Nice Accomodationists are Nice (except when discussing GGs, which is of course justifiable), therefore Gnu must now be a … Gnu Accomodationist!

    Gnu Accomodationist: a traitor to his Cause of eliminating religion wholesale and turning all cathedrals into, um, Materialist Rocket Surgery Experiment Labs, and is therefore almost “One Of Us Nice Ones”, but is still a Gnu. Proceed as normal: respond with teh Gnasty, making sure to ignore/misinterpret/misrepresent/misthefuckingpoint of practically everything Gnu says about anything.

    Rosenau might accept evolution as a well supported theory (like most reasonable people), but his dogmatic thinking about Gnus in general and rabid misrepresentation of (and obsession with) Jerry in particular smell a little like the Creo-fundie-troll-bot tactics we’ve all come to know and loathe.

    If this theme continues, I half expect to see Josh Rosenau as the featured kook in one of PZ’s “I get email” posts…

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      And yes, I concur with a previous commenter: maybe JR’s smelled the Templeton green and is hoping a selector will come out, see him play in the Big Game and sign him up as a rookie.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 2, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      Rocket Surgery Experiment Labs

      “Where your hearth can get a booster!”

  16. Posted February 2, 2011 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    What a joy it would be if Mencken had lived to have a go at the Post-Modernists!

  17. bad Jim
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    For whom is it news that Gnus are gneiss?

  18. Posted February 3, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    OK, I know what accomodationists are. I follow the debate, and the word itself is clear enough. Now, who are their opponents? Are they “the Gnu/New Atheists”? But if this phrase really has a meaning, it’s not limited to this aspect. Or are they, as is said here, “the anti-accomodationists”? Oh, the ugly, overlong, negative term. And there’s more to this position (“our” position, I may say) than just rejecting someone else’s, right?

    Am I the only one feeling that we sorely lack a good name to call “the attitude that is the opposite of accomodationism”?

    So what’s at the core of this attitude? I’d say that it’s the idea that, rigorously speaking, science and religious belief, or belief in gods, or in the supernatural, are not compatible.

    It’s not a merely negative idea. It has an immediate positive flipside: we must build ourselves a whole worldview that is consistently rational, evidence-based, etc.

    So are we “incompatibilists”? Or maybe “consistentists”? I’m sure we can find ourselves a good name…

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. My obsession with Gerry…

    People always ask me what my favorite movie. I’ve never had a good response. There are many, good. Recently I found myself watching Gerry held the sixth or seventh time. Must be in the top five. This is a film by Gus Van Sant, one of my favorite …

%d bloggers like this: