I directed a fair bit of opprobrium at Jerry Coyne recently over his ‘challenge’ to Keith Ward and his failure to inform Ward of the same. I still think Coyne merited some criticism over this. Coyne concedes that perhaps he should have informed Keith Ward about his ‘challenge’. and I’m still inclined to say that he should have. The plausibility of Coyne’s claim that by issuing the ‘challenge’ (as if) to Keith Ward he was really asking his readers to think of responses is something readers can judge for themselves. But I can certainly agree with his defenders that ‘the challenge’ is best understood as something rhetorical.
Coyne can be criticised, as he has been by Russell Blackford, for his problematic idea of what a fact is. And Massimo Pigliucci, who has previously criticized Coyne’s philosophical conception of science for extending “in some of its attributes, to plumbing”, twittered that for Coyne to equate ‘science’ with empiricism is ‘not kosher’. Pigliucci also says that “Ward established that there are plenty of facts that are not amenable to scientific analysis” and really this “is a truism”. I would agree. And I continue to agree with Keith Ward that, on account of a careless reading of his column, Coyne offered up a straw man argument as far as the ‘challenge’ was concerned. As philosopher Jean Kazez argues the ‘challenge’ is a red herring - the relevant quotation ”was lifted out of context and Jerry interpreted it as saying something Ward clearly never said”.
All that granted, the charges of intellectual dishonesty, and shabby behaviour that I levelled against Professor Coyne were, I think, both counter-productive and a good few steps beyond what is appropriate. If I want to insist on civility and charitable interpretation on the part of my more strident fellow atheists, I’m rather obliged to offer the same to them. So, I have rather been drawn to the conclusion that I should offer some apology to Jerry Coyne for the accusations I made against him. I have now done so. I’ve also happily conceded that I am, as Coyne suggests, a ‘pompous jerk’.
And those, I think, seem quite appropriate as my final words on the matter.
Professor Coyne has since accepted my apologies and posted a reply here.
* I have subsequently re-edited my original post.