I get nice letters, too

UPDATE:  The guy who wrote this letter will be reading this (you’ve probably guessed that already), so if you have any words of advice or support, by all means let fly.

_______________________

Emails like this one (posted with the writer’s permission) make it all worthwhile.  I can’t boast a “converts’ corner” like the one Dawkins has, but as Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

The point here is not to brag about my conversion skills, but to show that “militant” atheism does not completely turn people away from evolution—or science in general.  Granted, this email is an anecdote,  but could we please see some testimony from religious people saying, “You know, I really liked Richard Dawkins’s books, but in the end I found that I couldn’t buy the idea of evolution because he’s such a loudmouth atheist”?

Dr. Coyne,

I hope I’m not bugging you at your work email, but I couldn’t find a contact address on your website (besides for your publisher). Sorry if you’ve got a site-specific one and I didn’t see it.

You mentioned in your post yesterday (“Religion doesn’t make people nice”) that you get a lot of hate mail. So I just wanted to do something different and just say “thanks.” I’ve been lurking around your website ever since the infamous home-schooling article from the AP included a link to this strange place called whyevolutionistrue. I’m not much of a commenter, but I have your blog linked to the very top of my phone’s RSS reader. It’s the first thing I check in the morning. (And at lunch, and just before dinner.)

I really appreciate what you’re doing for the advancement of reason in this country. It’s not just affecting those who are already “in the know.” People like me are starting to wake up and smell the evidence. I’m a 25-year-old fellow from the backwoods of the Appalachias with little education to speak of. I was raised Southern Baptist, donated time and money to the Discovery Institute, and participated in anti-evolution debates and seminars. I was one of the True Believers who would tell someone straight to their face that they were going to hell if they didn’t kneel down that instant and accept Lord Jesus into their hearts. And I’d say it with a smile.

It was actually my interest in biology that led me into creationism. That hunger to know about the intricacies of life on this planet, though, was quickly sated by the triple-quarter-pounder of bible literalism, what-if speculation, and absolute certainty. It was filling, sure, but for a curious young guy like myself, it sat like a rock in the gut. My biggest regret in my short time here is that I let myself get talked out of going to college to study biology. And, since biology was the only thing in which I ever wanted further education, talking myself out of college in general.

I would have remained in that state of mental stagnation had I not broken the cardinal rule of creationists, which is:  “Never read the stuff from the other side.” I’d grown up reading about the statistical refutations of evolution, the argument of irreducible complexity, and Flood hydrodynamics. There was actually a warning in more than one of these books and courses advising against reading anything published by secular scientists. Satan was clever. He could fool innocent people into believing the lies told by his scientific minions. (Scientific, by the way, is quite the insult among Southern Baptists. Or was in the churches I attended.) Really, I just wanted more ammunition to use for my debates against evolutionists. That was the whole reason I started reading about evolution from the scientific perspective. I wanted to see for myself these great holes in the logic of scientists that I’d been hearing about.

You probably know the rest. The initial rejection of what I’d read, trying to get someone to explain to me why all the evidence pointed toward evolution instead of away, realizing that the answers that I was getting from the creationist side were either evasive, inconsistent, or deceitful. And the long, slow, painful process of shedding a belief I’ve had instilled in me since childhood.

The whole point of this mini-autobiography is that if people like you weren’t out there making such a ruckus, then people like me wouldn’t have the chance to break out of the destructive, irrational belief system that serves as a mental and moral cage. I know you don’t need me to tell you to, but I hope you’ll keep on being a strident, arrogant, uncompromising bastard. The world needs more like you.

Thanks again,

Name redacted

Note: As far as I can, I’ve verified the writer’s identity.  And for those of you who worry that this letter is too well written to come from a person with “little education,” read The Elegance of the Hedgehog. When I complimented the writer on his epistolary skills, he replied, “I appreciate the compliment. Though I am uneducated in the traditional sense, I’m a voracious reader. I believe that if you read widely and densely enough, you’ll pick up a smidgeon of good grammar just through osmosis.”

94 Comments

  1. Chuck
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    I echo this. I subscribe to your blog and love reading it everytime it hits my in box (the cat stuff not so much). I live in Chicago and often entertain thoughts about auditing one of your classes. You’ve become one of my intellectual role models for your commitment to reason and unwillingness to mistake people-pleasing as a valid epistemology.

  2. Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Hoorah!

  3. Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    All hail St. Coyne! The patron saint of reason and PMN. CIS-sys need not apply.

  4. MosesZD
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I believe that if you read widely and densely enough, you’ll pick up a smidgeon of good grammar just through osmosis.”

    That’s how I got mine… Because it certainly wasn’t in school…

    • Posted October 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      I think that this is one of the most important lessons that good Composition teachers should spread, if they don’t already. Reading closely is a great teacher in how to write well.

  5. Neil
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    See, it is possible to call somebody a “strident, arrogant, uncompromising bastard” in a nice way.

    • Posted October 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      I think it warrants going into the memestream as an acronym:

      SAUBs unite!

      We need more SAUBs!

  6. ambulocetacean
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Yay Jerry! Yay Name Redacted!

  7. stvs
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    My biggest regret in my short time here is that I let myself get talked out of going to college to study biology. And, since biology was the only thing in which I ever wanted further education, talking myself out of college in general.

    That’s a tough regret, but the modern world can help a little: just browse over to iTunes University and download MIT’s OpenCourseWare for MIT 7.012 Introduction to Biology taught by none other than the great Eric Lander and others. If you learn what’s in this freshman course you’ll have greater biological knowledge than anyone who learned the subject even ten years ago, which includes many in the field.

    I can’t recommend Lander highly enough. Perhaps Professor Coyne could make his recommendations for iPod loadable courses as well.

    • Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      On the same vein, I feel compelled to mention that several unis are putting lectures online and available for free. A search for large videos on youtube with the keyword “lecture offers many hits.

      • Sigmund
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        And, just to keep things in persepective, the ‘other side’ also have University courses.
        I found a great course on “Angeology” listed from Emmaus Bible College. And yes, it is just as insane as it sounds.
        And even worse, it’s not the only course on the subject on iTunes University – there are two other competitors! (one of which is – surprise, surprise – Liberty University!)

    • Launcher
      Posted October 25, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      The Redacted Reader is only 25 – I hope he considers going to college after all. Hopefully he can find grants and loans to help his way.

  8. Insightful Ape
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Well yes, it is an anecdote. Except that the accomodationists who won’t stop complaining about tone rather than substance have nothing but. And some of those anecdotes (such as mooney’s) have been totally debunked.
    My hat is off to our young writer. I wonder, though, if donating to DI is all so common among baptists.
    So much for IDiots being about science and not religion.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    What a lovely letter! Add me to the chorus of good will and enjoyment of your blog. Besides, anyone is loves cats as much as you do must be an extraordinarily intelligent and good person. ;-)

  10. legal9ball
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I also used to be a true believer. I don’t know if you ever were Jerry, by if you were, then you will even more fully appreciate the poignancy of discovering the world as it actually is rather than the threadbare, blood soaked fairytale you were inculcated with.

    It is and will always be extremely moving to me to witness a mind awakening from the trance of religion.

  11. salon_1928
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Today is going to be a great day. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I’m a former fundie, too. Talking sense into me required a bit of rudeness (or so it seemed at the time), but I’m grateful for the effort.

  13. daveau
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    What a nice letter. It shows that people can be reached with logic and evidence.

  14. NewEnglandBob
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Fantastic! Knowledge and reason can, and does rule the day.

    In the first dozen comments, I already see others coming forward with a similar story. Let the hordes arrive. Those of us here know the message is getting out because of Gnu Atheism and in spite of the cowardly accommodationists.

  15. litchik
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    It is a lovely letter. As to education, there are many sources and reading voraciously is among the best. One of my favorite living authors, William Gay, is taught himself this way.

    Kudos to the letter writer for taking the time to write, and write so well.

  16. Bob Carlson
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I would have remained in that state of mental stagnation had I not broken the cardinal rule of creationists, which is: “Never read the stuff from the other side.”

    I find the argument that free will is an illusion quite convincing, so wonder about the genetic factor or environmental change that caused the reading and accepting of the stuff from the other side. Kids break away from the environment of their upbringing when they go off to college, but there wasn’t any college in this case, which makes it all the more interesting. Surely the understanding of the workings of the brain will vastly improve in the future, but I suspect that it will only point increasingly to a reality that we are the way we are because of factors beyond our control.

  17. mswzebo
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Hey Name redacted – it isn’t too late to start a formal study of science and biology. I suspect that you’ve been doing a lot of informal and self-directed study – which is great, but it’s nice to have guides too. And university laboratories and the camaraderie of fellow students, and lecture series! You’re still very young and you know what your ‘great regret’ is – an opportunity not to be missed!

  18. The Devil of Limerick
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Beautiful letter, I have posted it to my blog, but I am referencing it back to this site.

    Keep up the good work…

  19. Posted October 23, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    A lovely letter.

    I got one a few days ago myself. For some people, the non-apologetic quality really is exactly what they want. Mooney is just wrong when he insists that “that’s never going to convince believers.” Nobody claims it’s going to convince all believers overnight, but it not only convinces some, it…well it helps them. It’s what they want.

    This is probably because deconversion often involves a feeling of having been had – having been conned. Given that feeling, one doesn’t necessarily want yet more protectiveness about the con – one wants a clean break, and maybe some exasperation.

    The fault line is between people who feel affection for religion and people who don’t. We need both. What Mooney doesn’t seem to get is that some people need and want allies who dislike religion.

    • Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s it. Having suffered from religion for decades (having been raised in it), I have little patience for unbelievers who want to portray religion as all sweetness and light (despite all evidence to the contrary) and make friends with it.

      • Posted October 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Especially unconditional friends with it. I’m happy to agree that some religion is benign (I’m a pushover for Quakerism, for instance) and that some clerics are terrific people. I’m not at all happy to be pressured to agree that all religion is benign or that clerics as such are inherently terrific people.

        • Eric MacDonald
          Posted October 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

          I’m a pushover for Quakerism, for instance.

          I’m not. I think Quakerism is fake, just as most Buddhism is. They are the peaceful ones. Like Gandhi, they would let the world march over them, but, you know, other people tend to be marched over. It’s a way of staying in the shade. I agree with Hitch. They’re free riders. They don’t deserve your high regard.

          • Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

            I don’t know the first thing about Quakerism. But I have an entry-level insight into Buddhism, and I’ve gotta point out that Buddhism has a darker underbelly of its own. It ain’t all mandalas and lotus blossoms.

            I still consider it to be the least bothersome amongst the world religions that I know. But that’s a poor accolade indeed.

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

            In my neck o’ the woods, Quakers have been some of the staunchest protesters of the Dubya Bush wars. For that they have my admiration. And gratitude.

            • Morgan
              Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

              We like protesting :p

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink

              I’m glad somebody still does! (‘Nam era, here.)

              Got a “War is not the Answer” bumper sticker in the mail today from FCNL. Happy to have it. (Of course, they also wanted $$.)

          • Werther
            Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

            Hitchens called the Quakers “free riders” not because of any abstract theological issue but because they didn’t support the disastrous Middle East wars that he was so vocally cheerleading.

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:12 am | Permalink

              Thank you, Werther. Puts “free rider” in a wholly different context, and I’m glad to know where it came from.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        You guys haven’t even seen the worst of it. I grew up among fundamentalist Muslims. I didn’t even need science to free me from the clutch of religion. Long before I knew anything about evolution, I was well aware that if the patriarchal god was anything other than a myth, he was the biggest jackass in existence, followed only by prophets, clerics, and anyone else trying to make a living by claiming to speak for him.

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      Nooo – it can’t be true – because Mooney sez Gnu Atheism scares people away!

      I’m still waiting for credible evidence that Mooney’s scheme works, and given his fantastic investigative journalist skillz I’m betting we get more Tom Johnsons instead – if anything. It’s reminiscent of Dembski’s (and other kooks’) promises to show “irrefutable evidence” that their crazy ideas are true.

  20. Ken Pidcock
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Though I am uneducated in the traditional sense, I’m a voracious reader. I believe that if you read widely and densely enough, you’ll pick up a smidgeon of good grammar just through osmosis.

    That is the truth. I lack a liberal education myself and, while there have been some embarrassments (like mispronouncing words I’ve only seen written), it hasn’t hindered me a bit because, like this delightful correspondent, I love to read.

    • Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Jeez, you know what, everybody mispronounces words because of having read them without hearing them. No embarrassment required.

      • Anonym
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        Some mispronounce them because they heard them (repeatedly) from the wrong sources.

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        So many readers have shared the same “embarrassment” with me that I’ve come to think it’s actually a reliable indication of high intelligence & a thirsting mind.

        And it’s only those to whom it occurs to use out-of-the-ordinary words who are so “embarrassed.” It should probably be something to brag about! :)

        • Posted October 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

          Yeah! That’s what I meant.

          Same with [redacted] – a voracious reader who reads widely and densely – that is educated.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        But it doesn’t stop. I’m talking to my son tonight and tell him, having learned it on WEIT, “‘Maru has sold out.” “What?” “The cat.” Oh, Mar’u.”

    • Andrew B.
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      OHMYGODWASTHISYOU?

      • Anonym
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Now, that gait I’d like to see.

        • Posted October 24, 2010 at 1:32 am | Permalink

          Pretty mean to pass the meaning of one after you’d failed the pronunciation of the other.

      • Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        At least it’s better than mis-spelling a word you’ve only heard spoken.

    • stvs
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      Sham-pagan?

    • Neil
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      If you worry about mispronouncing words you’ve only read (who doesn’t?), here is a useful site:

      http://www.howjsay.com/

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

        Ooh, thanks for the link–much quicker than most pronunciation sites. And I’m pretty impressed with its scope. Didn’t hurt that it agreed with me about ‘pileated,’ either. (PIE, not PILL!! Directed at my relative who insists on pill.)

        • Scott
          Posted October 25, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          Sorry Diane, it’s pronounced “pill-e-ated.”

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:27 am | Permalink

            Now, don’t you start! :D

            FWIW, I had previously looked this up, and whatever dictionary I was using listed both as acceptable…

            AND–just checked the etymology, which said it comes from pileus, which, in my MW is ALSO pronounced PIE…(though probably not in the original Latin?).

            SO THERE! LOL.

  21. Posted October 23, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    elegance of the hedgehog is, after anything by Nabokov, the most beautifully written novel i’ve ever read.

    • articulett
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      I just got it from the library and am reading it right now (thanks to Jerry’s recommendation.)

  22. Douglas E
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Ok – I will accept that there is an important role for the strident, arrogant, uncompromising bastards, but will also say that I too have a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that fundie students can be led to see the truth of evolution via a more humble approach :-)

    • Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Such as reading the book WEIT? Or several other books explaining evolution (including Dawkins’)?

      Despite Jerry’s occasional fierceness in debate, I think WEIT maintains a friendly approach throughout.

    • Andrew B.
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Who says Profs Coyne, Myers and Dawkins aren’t humble? They don’t claim to know anything they cannot know, unlike nearly every clergyperson in the world. Did you mean humble as in “prefacing every statement of scientific fact with a ‘if I may be so bold’ or ‘in my humble opinion?'” I don’t think that’s humility. It think that is groveling and pretense of respect.

      Once, when asked about extra-terrestrial life, Dawkins said something to the effect of “I have a gut feeling there is such life-but you shouldn’t take such feelings seriously.”

      The problem is that most non-scientists are so unfamiliar with the bluntness with which scientists speak. I think it would be better for non-scientists to conform to this behavior, rather than the other way around. At least when dealing with mere facts and evidence.

      • Douglas E
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Humble – not proud or arrogant; modest. I was only using the term in contrast to the writer’s description of Dr. Coyne. I really don’t know if he and the others you mention are indeed humble, but it’s not the first descriptor that comes to my mind :-) I agree very much with what Sigmund posted, and affirm that there are different ways to reach different folks.

        • Posted October 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

          Well humble isn’t the first descriptor that comes to my mind, either, but then that’s a good thing. What an unattractive image the word conjures up – Uriah Heep, for a start. I’m not sure I know anyone I would describe as humble. Sanctimonious, yes, and that applies to people I dislike. Humble, no.

          Jerry, on the other hand, is funny, and perfectly willing to laugh at himself, but above all he’s mostly interested in things that aren’t about him. Most sanctimonious people I know aren’t like that; some of them can’t open their mouths without talking about themselves.

          I’m not sure humility, as it shows up in the real world, is actually a virtue. I feel rather Nietzschean about it – it’s a pseudo-virtue that actually just draws attention to the subject. Get me, I’m humble. Interesting people don’t pause to strike an attitude, they just say what they think.

    • Sigmund
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      As far as I can make out, the Gnu atheist position is not that their ‘strident’ approach is the only one that will work, but that being outspoken about atheism should at least be one of the options. It is the accomodationists who call for silence from the gnus so that the nicely-nicely approach of accomodationism is the only one heard by theists. I’m pretty sure that Dawkins appoach works less well than Ken Millers approach – for SOME people. And whats more I think you will fail to find a single gnu calling for Ken Miller to be silenced.

    • morgan
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Hang on a minute.The accomodationists repeatedly claim there is NO place for ‘strident, arrogant, uncompromising bastards’ and that such people are in fact making it harder to promote science/skepticism/atheism. The gnu atheists respond by defending their approach and expressing confusion about why accomodationists can’t just accept the need for several different approaches instead of trying to throw gnu atheists under the bus.

      And then you think it’s reasonable for you to concede or ‘accept’ that gnu atheists have a place BUT so does a more humble approach? Like it has been the gnu atheist trying to shut up the accomodationists? Way to rewrite the story. And the smiley emoticon just makes your condescending hypocrisy worse.

      • Douglas E
        Posted October 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        First, I will thank you for the case of Upslope Brewing Company’s Pale Ale [Maxim's Pale Ale of the Year - an exeptional, hoppy brew - I recommend it highly]. The wager was simple – how quickly the personal flame would appear, excoriating a non-Gnu even though one voices support for the battle against the anti-evolutionists. It was actually a pretty sure win for me, given the predilections of a few of the comment contibutors.

        You seem not to understand that there is a large number of agnostics, Gnu Xians, and benign Xians [as Ophelia would say] who are also challenging the anti-evolutionists, and who want to see the end of the influence of the CINO’s from Gingerich to Limbaugh to Mohler to van Impe to Ham. We look forward to the day of post-Christendom in this country. I believe that you would agree that we cannot allow ignorance to freely graze without any threat of being hunted.

  23. Andy
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Signing off a Hall of Fame post with the Gnu symbol is a nice touch. I envision a stamp, like the National Book Award stamp, or the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval—something that could be put on products so the public will know that it’s something the Gnu Atheists approve of.

    • justsearching
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Despite aligning ourselves around some common ideas, I think we’re a pretty motley crowd and there are few products that we could uniformly give a “stamp of approval” to. That, and I think we’d be put off by the idea of a “committee of atheists” to make those sort of judgments for the rest of us.

      • Andy
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        Still, I’d like to know that my furniture polish, or my toothpaste, or my DVD player was one approved of by some sort of standing committee of Gnus, lest I use a product that might corrupt my “strident, illiberal” atheism. Don’t the Mormons have some kind of system like that?

        • Posted October 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          If the Mormons do, we have to!

          I nominate myself for the committee; that way I’ll get free samples.

  24. jt512
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    To the author of the letter: there’s no law that says you can’t start college in your 20s.

  25. jdhuey
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Well, my “conversion” was greatly influenced by someone who’s manner was strident, arrogant and militant: the pastor at our Southern Baptist church. Even at a very young age I knew that this guy was an ass. The guy had lost some credibility with me after he had made some disparaging comments about the space program (this was in the early 60’s), but one Sunday he really lit into the EVIL Secular Humanists. He blamed them for just every thing that was wrong with America – they were vile and disgusting creatures – the spawn of Satan himself. Well, I went to the main library and read the what the World Book Encyclopedia had to say about them – hey, guess what, Humanism is actually quite nice! At that point, my default assumption about whatever the Pastor said was that he was wrong.

    • articulett
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      I often ask for “militant” “arrogant” “shrill” quotes from those who seem to think such adjectives are descriptive of Dawkins et. al. The critics of gnu atheists rarely have anything to offer in the way of actual quotes. Sometimes they’ll give a paraphrase of something they imagine Dawkins said or something, but given the prevalence of quotes on the web, this is a poor substitute (especially if– as Phil Plait says– such examples are “trivially obvious”).

      In any case, I’ve never seen anything any so-called gnu atheist says that can begin to compare to readily available quotes from Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, The pope, or just plain old theist hate mail or sermons of preachers.

      I’ve come to the conclusion that many people are hearing things that are not said in order to see the gnu atheists as some sort of “bad guys” while ignoring much worse things said (and done) as a direct result of faith. I suspect religions have taught people to do this as a way of protecting faith from scrutiny.

      I’m glad to hear that it doesn’t work on everyone

      I couldn’t tell if the letter writer was being facetious or not when he said, “I hope you’ll keep on being a strident, arrogant, uncompromising bastard”–
      I’m not sure any of those adjectives fit Professor Coyne… maybe “uncompromising”– but not if there was evidence to suggest a compromise was in order. In any case, it was a great letter. I don’t doubt that Coyne has lead many people towards reason and a greater appreciation of science. I suspect that he has lead many more people in this direction than those who’d criticize him and/or his methods. (I wonder if any of the accomodationist can boast such letters?)

      • Posted October 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        Articulett knows from my posts elsewhere that I’m blunt in my denunciation of wide creationism = all theism! Sens. Hatch and Kennedy were blunt about each others’ positions, yet were the best of friends as I told Eugenie C.Scott, my Facebook friend.
        Yes to PMI, which in effect is my form of ontological naturalism.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted October 23, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

        The critics of gnu atheists rarely have anything to offer in the way of actual quotes.

        Actually, they do. They mostly quote one another.

        • Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

          You’ll note that for all that they like to tut-tut the Gnus for being mean, they themselves are perfectly willing to be mean and nasty to us.

      • Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        My personal favorite is from people who surmise the premise of a book from the title alone. Classic example is The Selfish Gene.

        I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has told me the premise of the book is that altruism cannot and should not exist. I respond with a common definition of altruism, and then show entries from the book that explicitly explain and demonstrate why altruistic behavior should arise, and even why it should be intermingled with selfish behavior.

        They drop the subject altogether. Then I’ll catch them making the same point again a few weeks later. Very disheartening.

        I’ve also come across people who think that Ophelia’s ‘Why Truth Matters’ is a sign that she (and Jeremy) must be racist, capitalist, culturally imperialist, misogynistic pigs. Just from the title. It’s infuriating. You can’t educate someone who already thinks they know everything.

        You really can’t judge a book by it’s title – although it should be pointed out that ‘god is not great’ is the exception that proves the rule.

  26. Diane G.
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    What a day maker. Thank you so much for writing this, Name Redacted.

  27. Posted October 23, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redacted, you’re absolutely right: the world needs more strident, arrogant, uncompromising bastards. And…if I may be so bold…why not start by becoming one of us, yourself?

    The first step would be to stop redacting your name. Now, I realize, that’s an awfully big step, but you can ease yourself into it by adopting an anonymous ‘Net persona and wearing that until it feels comfortable.

    Jump into the fray with both feet. The water’s cold at first, but there’s nothing like riding the natural water slide of a mountain stream through the rapids, over the falls, and into the pool at the bottom. Just watch out for that big rock up ahead; the best way to avoid bashing your brains out on it is to be firm in your convictions but unafraid to unhesitatingly change your course should convincing evidence and reason indicate such a change would be prudent.

    Expect some scratches and bruises; they’re the price of admission — and quite the bargain, if I may say so myself. It’s almost as good as blackberrying, or playing patty-cake with a cat (another two enterprises that result in inevitable-yet-worthwhile bloodshed).

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

      Ben, you are a treasure.

      (Dare I admit to spending a little bit of time wondering how using a Blackberry resulted in bloodshed? “Oh, that kind of blackberrying…” Facepalm.)

  28. Flakko
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    He’s only 25; I would advise him that it is definitely not too late to get that biology degree. I went back at 27 and then got a PhD in O Chem. Sounds like he’s way ahead of the game, anyway. It would be a shame if he did not put that mind to use on our side.

  29. Eric MacDonald
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s a lovely letter, by the way. Thanks for sharing with us. This guy has got a head on his shoulders. He should start commenting, because he’s got something to say.

    And I second the idea. He’s young enough to go far. He’s already gone quite a way.

  30. EvolutionSWAT
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, when I first became an atheist, I wrote many drafts of letters (that I never sent you) trying to explain how your ‘shrill’ approach was not the best way to go about things.

    However, the very day I was going to email you, I had a conversation with a friend whom I considered a ‘sophisticated Christian’ where they argued that the genocide in the Old Testament was okay because God knew all those babies were going to grow up to become Hitlers.

    I never sent you the email.

    Speaking of reading both sides, I got a creationist to read your book in exchange for me reading The Evolution of a Creationist by Jobe Martin. We will see who wins!

  31. Gatot
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    Agree to other posters, this is a beautiful letter. An opening of the mind is always a time to cherish.

    To Redacted: may the force (of gravity, nature, evolution, science) be with you …

    Note: it is true that in many places choices to be free like this is not without practical problems. Redacted can consider him/herself lucky compared to inhabitants of fundie-land

  32. Posted October 24, 2010 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Kudos from me, too. As a former fundie I appreciated your book which helped extricate me from the clutches of blind faith. In my case it wasn’t so much any “strident” aspect of your online persona, which I think is way overblown, it was just the cold, hard, painfully-obvious evidence that exposed nicely.

    A skeptic friend and the Evolution 101 podcast started my roll to reality.

    Most times the term “strident” would be better replaced with “pointedly.”

  33. John
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    It took a little rudeness for me to wake me up too. I love this blog so much.

  34. blue
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    wow, i teared up. that was awesome.

  35. TheBear
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    This was a good one, people should be writing these kinds of letters far more often.

    Good wishes to the letter-writer!

  36. Dominic
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Your correspondant should take up the biology now. It is never too late to learn & s/he is only 29…

    • Dominic
      Posted October 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      25 – oops! Well, I am a long way from the top of the page!

  37. Sili
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I believe that if you read widely and densely enough, you’ll pick up a smidgeon of good grammar just through osmosis.

    True. But non-standard ‘grammar’ and usage does not necessarily imply lack of intelligence. (And plenty of well-spoken, grammatical writers are complete and utter fools. I’m sure the Pope’s Latin is flawless for instance.)

  38. Posted October 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Bravo correspondent and bravo Prof. Coyne!

    Since New Framers seem to be so fond of anecdotes or vague tales of offense or dickishness when discussing the Gnus’ insistence on not coddling people, I propose the following:

    Profs Coyne, Myers & Dawkins, Ebonmuse, the crew from The Atheist Experience, Hemant and any other interested godless web-heathens create open threads on all their sites, asking former theists or science-deniers to come forward and share their stories of de-conversion at the hands of rampaging, militant Gnu Atheist Scientismists. I think a large collection of stories like the above letter would go a long way toward debunking (or at least casting significant doubt on) the New Framer assertion that frank, honest discussions of science’s falsifying effect on religious dogma is neither harming science nor turning people away from it.

    I’ll start with my example: until reading TGD in 2006 I considered myself, though a science tragic, skeptic and life-long opponent of religious hypocrisy, inequality & violence, a very noncommittal deist. But it’s not that Dawkins “converted” me to atheism, it’s more like his arguments allowed me to actually think about my beliefs and crystallise my points of view to the point where I could properly define my own position. It turned out I’d actually been a functional but unaware atheist for most of my life; reading TGD made my brain work, made me actually consider my position properly and presto – atheism.

    Perhaps every time a neuron pings, an atheist gets his wings :)

    • Posted October 24, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      Very good idea.

      Unfortunately, I was already an atheist before the Gnus, so I don’t have much to say myself.

      All the same – be a bit leery of whether this will convince the diplomats of anything. The very nature of their criticisms of us is entirely divorced from evidence. Its based on the notion that theirs is the One Right Way to relate to people in an argument.

      The arguments from consequences they put forward always felt like a smoke-screen.

      I doubt the kind of evidence you propose would be useful to changing their minds. But it would go a long way to undermining them.

      I think RichardDawkins.net already has a thread on that topic somewhere.

      • Posted October 24, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

        Agreed: the New Framers are seemingly immune to anything which casts doubt on their “You dicks are not helping” hypotheses or renders irrelevant their tone-trolling; that’s why this wouldn’t be aimed at them, much the same way Dawkins isn’t aiming at Ray Comfort, rather people who still have functioning brains.

        The intention isn’t to convince the Framers of anything. Just like the Gnus’ honest discussions of science, my desired outcome would be a collection of personal anecdotes aimed at any fence-sitters; any people just like our correspondent who may have been marinated, lifelong, in dogma and explicitly warned against reading “enemy” works, or even just those who sit somewhere near people like Mooney in this debate. I think it needs to be known that honest dicussions about science & belief do more good than harm.

        Just on a personal level, I think it’d be interesting to see just how many stories of this nature could be compiled and how many would say something along the lines of “I’m grateful for being shocked into thinking!” Noone ever learned anything useful by having their mistaken ideas coddled – or ignored.

        Of course I’m aware that the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data”; however that’s the game the Framers have begun, so why notplay a few rounds?

  39. JBlilie
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Good onya young fellow and good work Dr. Coyne! Please do keep it up.

    This is right on:

    Though I am uneducated in the traditional sense, I’m a voracious reader. I believe that if you read widely and densely enough, you’ll pick up a smidgeon of good grammar just through osmosis.

    Indeed, IMO the only way to become a good writer is to read widely and densely.

  40. tm61
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The writer states:

    “…if people like you weren’t out there making such a ruckus, then people like me wouldn’t have the chance to break out of the destructive, irrational belief system that serves as a mental and moral cage. I know you don’t need me to tell you to, but I hope you’ll keep on being a strident, arrogant, uncompromising bastard. ”

    but he doesn’t indicate the role the “ruckus” played in his conversion. One other commenter states that “WEIT maintains a friendly approach throughout”. So it can’t be the stridency or arrogance of the book that got him thinking. I’d like a bit of clarification from the writer on this point.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:33 am | Permalink

      Aw, c’mon…it’s a letter, not a scientific paper. ;) (And a wonderfully written letter at that.) Let’s not start grilling the guy!

      Might I suggest that his stated fondness for this blog is all we need to know about where he picked up his knowledge of the accomo/gnu divide?

      • Ysor
        Posted October 26, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Nonetheless, I am curious to hear it. So do others, I think. Nothing catches my attention like a good narrative.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 26, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

          Well, yes. When you put it that way, I guess you speak for all of us! But we need to be very grateful for what he did commit to electrons. :)

          (Eat your heart out, CM. :D )


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and is taken from his Why Evolution is True blog. It shows that yes, sometimes being rational can influence others. Dr. [...]

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  3. [...] assertion.Show me the evidence to support this claim, accomodationists, the way I see it there is more evidence to the contrary.It also curiously lays the blame for the fact that some religious people [...]

  4. [...] 1)http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/i-get-nice-letters-too/ [...]

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