Jerry Coyne’s Crusade

By Keith Kloor | April 24, 2013 1:42 am

In my previous post, I took issue with how Jerry Coyne crudely indicted an entire religion (Islam) based on the murderous actions of a few adherents. (And that was a perversion of the faith’s tenets, Islamic leaders say.) The way Coyne made his blanket generalization was lame. He referred to this passage in a CNN article (specifically the part I bolded):

Boston bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev conveyed to investigators that no international terrorist groups were behind the attacks, a U.S. government source told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev indicated his older brother, Tamerlan, was the driving force behind the attacks and wanted to defend Islam from attack, the source said.

Even though this is paraphrased, let’s take the surviving brother at his word. Coyne does so and opportunistically pounces:

Well, Islam now seems to really be behind what happened in Boston.

Really? Or is this just a wee bit simplistic?

Here’s a more accurate characterization from the New York Times (my emphasis):

The portrait investigators have begun to piece together of the two brothers suspected of the Boston Marathon bombings suggests that they were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs but were not acting with known terrorist groups — and that they may have learned to build bombs simply by logging onto the online English-language magazine of the affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not the only one who recognizes what Coyne is up to. A contributor at the blog Panda’s Thumb does an excellent job of dismantling the logic of Coyne’s post. 

My dig at Coyne was a mild poke compared to the thorough fisking he got at Panda’s Thumb. Yet for some reason my poke is what he responds to. I’m thinking that maybe the guy who accuses someone of being an “accommodationist” in every third sentence of a blog post doesn’t appreciate being called a “fundamentalist atheist.” Bullies never like it when they get hit back.

Regardless, here’s Coyne trying to backpedal in his rejoinder to me:

Actually, I didn’t say that Islam was behind the bombings—Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the bombers, did!

This is disingenuous tripe. That it springs from a first-rate scientific mind–someone I respect a lot–is disappointing.

Look, we can have an honest debate about this. Numerous Collide-a-Scape readers (such as this one) have made an argument very similar to what Andrew Sullivan has been arguing this past week, including here:

All religions contain elements of this kind of fanaticism. But Islam’s fanatical side – from the Taliban to the Tsarnaevs – is more murderous than most.

Sullivan is getting his share of blowback for this view, which I think is contestable. But I admire the forthright manner he’s been making his case. Like Coyne, Sullivan seems to think the Boston bombings can be blamed on Islam. The difference between them is that Coyne, unlike Sullivan, goes one step further and sees religious faith as the real evil that needs to be stamped out.

As I’ve said before, good luck with that crusade.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: atheism, Islam, religion, select

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets.From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine.In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest.He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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