More Lowering the Tone

I don’t like Andrew Brown’s tone. I’ve said so before and I say it again. It’s an unpleasant tone – sneering, nose downlooking, insinuating, and sloppy about the facts (or interpretations of the facts). It’s the kind of tone that failure to grovel to religion seems to bring out in a lot of people at this particular historical moment.

The faults are visible right from the beginning.

Hell hath no fury like a philosopher scorned – even one who doesn’t believe in hell. Two of the leading philosophers of evolution have been caught in an email slanging match that has been printed on the blog of their mutual enemy William Dembski, a supporter of the rebranded creationism known as intelligent design.

That’s a snide and not very accurate way of putting it. It’s not a slanging match, it’s Ruse being unaccountably rude to Dennett; ‘caught’ is an odd word to use of both since the bad behavior is all Ruse’s; the email exhange didn’t just happen to be posted on Dembski’s blog, Ruse sent it to Dembski, apparently without permission.

There is a poetic justice to this, since the row started with an argument over how to combat creationism.

No, there is not a poetic justice to this, there is a breach of manners at the least, and the ‘row’ isn’t so much a row as an ambush.

When a long piece about the struggle against creationism in the New York Times Book Review suggested there was some truth to Ruse’s belief that “evolutionism” is being pushed by people like Dennett as a substitute for religion, Dennett was aggrieved, denouncing Ruse’s ideas as “a transparent example of a well-known cheap trick”.

That’s a misleadingly evasive account. Very. This ‘denouncing’ of Ruse’s ideas was in a letter to the Times that the Times did not in fact publish, and at the time Ruse sent the first (according to Brown, ‘teasing’) email to Dennett, it hadn’t been published anywhere. That ought to be relevant in a statement that makes it sound as if Dennett’s ‘denunciation’ of Ruse were public knowledge before the email exchange. (As a matter of fact, the only place Dennett’s letter to the Times has been published is right here at B&W, so that’s where Brown saw it, but he doesn’t mention the fact. Sloppy. The date on it is after Ruse sent the email exchange to Dembski. Sloppy to glide over that.)

Dennett had more cause for complaint when, three weeks later, the NYT Book Review printed a rude review of his book Breaking the Spell. After reading the review, Ruse, sitting in Florida, could not resist sending a jeering email to Dennett. This was not, he now says, a very Christian thing to do. “But it was funny.”

A review so rude, so downright vulgar, as to be somewhat shocking. And – Ruse thinks a jeering email on the subject is funny? He really is more daft than I had realized.

What Dennett thinks of all this I do not know, since he has not replied to my email. Ruse is unrepentant. “Let’s face up to it: all Dan was doing was slagging me off.”

All Dan was doing where? In a letter that the Times declined to publish? In their email exchange? If the latter, so what? If the former, again so what, since it hadn’t been published? In short, what is Ruse’s grievance? That Dennett disagreed with him 1) in a then unpublished letter to the Times and 2) in an email exchange that Ruse instigated? And therefore it’s fine that Ruse sent the exchange to Dembski? Notice that Brown never even mentions how ethically dubious that is, in fact he doesn’t even mention the matter of permission. Notice also the vulgar abuse that Ruse descends to in the rest of Brown’s quotation from his email, drawing level with and then passing Wieseltier.

Not an edifying spectacle.

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