Straw Woman

Jerry Coyne in a recent post:
I love it that Ruse, like Jeremy Stangroom and Jean Kazez, characterizes our philosophical naivité and so-called stridency as “immoral.”  Do these philosophers even know what “immorality” is?
I have never linked philosophical naivete with immorality.  Not once. I've never linked stridency with immorality either. 

I did say this and this;  but the issue there was over-the-top personal hostility, character assassination, cyber-bullying.  Should we use the word "immoral" for such things?  Why (on earth) not?


Jeremy Stangroom said...

I'm not even sure I've mentioned Coynes's philosophical naivety. Well, maybe I have in the odd comment, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have called it immoral.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

The other thing, of course, is that willful, or careless, naivety could be considered immoral. Certainly people made that sort of argument about the aftermath of the Iraq invasion (i.e., you don't get off the hook simply by claiming that you thought things would turn out differently, because there was a moral imperative to find out enough about the situation on the ground before the invasion, etc, etc).

Jean Kazez said...

Right--in principle it could be immoral to "not do your homework." If you want to build nuclear reactors in an earthquake prone region, I say "do your homework!" The general idea is solid, but it's another question whether the new atheists are guilty as charged.

The main point is--I never made this argument. Not even remotely. Nor have I chided anyone for mere "stridency." A good example of stridency is that American Atheists "religion is a scam" billboard. It would be strange to call that immoral.

What I've called immoral is hyperbolic hostility directed at specific individuals, not mere stridency. That's a real moral issue, by any reasonable standard.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

"What I've called immoral is hyperbolic hostility directed at specific individuals, not mere stridency. That's a real moral issue, by any reasonable standard."

Indeed. It shouldn't even need saying.

I suspect I'd be slightly more ready than you to suggest that there is something morally problematic with the tabloid atheism of Myers, Coyne, etc; but that isn't really to do with "stridency" per se, rather the impact it has on public discourse, etc., plus thoughts about the nature of in-groups/out-groups, deindividuation, etc.

Also, there is an irony in the new atheists claiming that naivety isn't morally problematic (if that is their claim), given that they - or at least, some of them - make such a big deal of truth as the ultimate value: to the extent that willful naivety is likely to undermine any search for truth, one would think they would also think it morally problematic (and actually I think that argument is sometimes made vis-a-vis the dissemination of creationist ideas).

s. wallerstein said...

I don't use the word "immoral" much, but as I see it, some GNU online atheists are, let's say, sophomorically enthusiastic about their cause. I refer to Coyne, Myers and Benson.

That's no sin in itself in my book, although it's not a style which appeals to me. However, that style does influence unbalanced and unstable individuals, like Dave, the self-identified physicist who appeared in your blog, with what could be seen as veiled death threats.

I don't think that Coyne and Co. are directly responsible for Dave the Supposed Physicist and other lesser Daves, but they certainly could be more careful about how they speak about their online opponents (for example, Jeremy was accused by Coyne of apologizing for statutory rape), given that there are a lot of crazy people connected to internet, who make death threats, engage in clear cyber-bullying, and at times engage in violent action.

Benson did repudiate and condemn Dave the Physicist, which seems like the right move on her part.
It would be positive if Coyne and Myers, among others, were to condemn strongly Dave the Physicist and all future Daves.

I now use my last name and first initial online, after the "Dave" incident made me aware that one should take responsibility for one's online comments.

s. wallerstein said...

One more comment:

The online gnu atheists generally come from a scientific background, and I imagine that they will try to refute on grounds of lack of firm evidence any connection between their enthusiastic posts and the potentially dangerous online behavior of people like Dave the Physicist.

I certainly have no firm evidence for my claims, but if there is a slightest possibility that their enthusiasm eggs on cyber-bullies and those who proffer veiled death threats, then it would truly be immoral for them not to take a moment to rethink things.

Jean Kazez said...

Can't say I agree with any of that, Amos, but maybe we can just drop it? I was just correcting Coyne's misrepresentation, not trying to revisit all these issues.

Faust said...

Ahh the intercine feuds of the atheist bloggosphere.