November 02, 2011

Still Haughty

Yesterday I wrote about the bizarre situation where Catholic theologian John Haught had objected to the release of the video of the debate that he had with Jerry Coyne. That refusal caused quite a furor in the blog world and as a result, Haught has relented.

You can read Haught's explanation for his initial refusal and subsequent reversal, and Coyne's response follows immediately after. What I want to highlight is Haught's extraordinarily patronizing claim that he was trying to protect our delicate sensibilities from being offended by having to listen to what Coyne had to say.

But let me come to the main reason why I have been reluctant to give permission to release the video. It is not for anything that I said during our encounter, but for a reason that I have never witnessed in public academic discussion before.

I'm still in shock at how your presentation ended up. I was so offended both personally and as an academic by the vulgarity of it all that I did not want other people to have to share what I witnessed that night in October. I still don't.

You should be grateful that I have tried to protect the public from such a preposterous and logic-offending way of bringing your presentation to a close.

It is preposterous to think that the kinds of people who would take the trouble to watch a debate between a theologian and a scientist are like stereotypical Victorian ladies who might swoon and have to reach for their smelling salts. We can judge perfectly well for ourselves who comported themselves well and who didn't.

All Haught has done is vastly increase the interest in watching the debate. He may want to buy stock in companies that sell smelling salts.


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I'm not here to apologize for Haught, but there is one interesting passage from Haught's explanation that I was being ignored:
"My understanding was that each speaker was to provide a curt 25-minute presentation of how he understood the relationship between science and theology. I did just this, and I have no objection to having that presentation made public. People who attended the event, moreover, can testify that in my presentation I avoided talking about or criticizing you [Jerry Coyne] personally. Instead I was content to make some very general remarks about why I consider science completely compatible with theology as I understand it.


I recommended you as someone who would definitely have a different perspective, to say the least. Prof. Rabel informed me that you agreed to participate with the qualification that you did not want to debate me, but simply to lay out your own way of looking at science and religion. I took this to mean that you would do something parallel to what I did in my presentation."

If Haught's charge that Coyne asked to not have a debate and then did in fact approach the panel as a debate turns out to be true than that is pretty serious. That may be in even worse form than Haught's bizarre, "I must protect you from his terrible arguments," defense.

Posted by Jared A on November 2, 2011 04:55 PM


Your excerpt from John Haught letter seems a little misleading, especially the last statement. I believe it is taken out of context, and puts a negative spin on Haught's explanation of why he did not want the video to be posted.

I enjoy reading your posts, but this one was a little disappointing.

I would encourage everyone to read the entire letter that Haught published.

Posted by Case Student on November 2, 2011 05:00 PM

Jared A.,

My own experience with invitations to such academic events is that they are pretty loose and the organizers rarely place too much restrictions and so you never quite know what the other people are going to say and should be ready for pretty much anything. Organizers tend to be grateful if the speakers simply stick to the time limits and are not egregiously off-topic.

Case student,

I did not comment on the merits of Haught's explanation at all, leaving it up to readers to decide on whether it made sense. I was merely highlighting just those passages where Haught says he was trying to protect us from Coyne, so I am not sure where the spin or lack of context comes in. Wasn't he saying that he was trying to spare us?

Posted by Mano on November 2, 2011 07:40 PM

Mano, Your last sentence is what I mean by your sense of superiority, cynicism, ridicule and making fun at anyone who may disagree with you. Isn't a statement countering the arguments enough?

Posted by Manik on November 2, 2011 09:10 PM

"Isn't a statement countering the arguments enough?"

Not when dealing with ignorant, arrogant, fraudulent a-holes like Haught, it isn't. Mano was, if anything, much too mild. Haught deserves nothing but contempt and ridicule for his behavior. If his so-called "ideas" are too delicate to withstand criticism, he should just shut up.

Posted by Steve LaBonne on November 3, 2011 08:25 AM


Just to be clear, are you saying that my statement "He may want to buy stock in companies that sell smelling salts" exemplifies my "sense of superiority, cynicism, ridicule and making fun at anyone who may disagree with you"?

Posted by Mano on November 3, 2011 09:37 AM


Posted by Manik on November 3, 2011 09:17 PM


Wow, you have a really low threshold for taking offense. If even mildly facetious remarks like that one arouse such a reaction, then I am afraid you will have to get used to the idea that I am not a very nice person because I am certainly not going to restrain myself from saying things like that.

Posted by Mano on November 4, 2011 09:53 AM


I know what you mean about open ended invitations and how people come with different ideas of what they're going to do. In that context I think it's a only a little dubious to call the event a "debate" because in a real debate people have a chance for rebuttals and such. In this particular format the second speaker will always have an advantage.

Anyway, that's just aside because what I was commenting on was something slightly different: Haught accuses Coyne himself of asking Haught to not prepare for a debate. The reason this is a serious accusation is because Coyne repeatedly refers to the event as a "debate" since then. That amounts to sucker punching someone at a debate and then saying you beat him in a fight. And from then on referring to the "boxing match" that you "won".

I'm not saying this is definitely what happened because I'm not privy to their private communications. I just wanted to make it clear that there was a serious allegation hidden in that letter. Other than that clarifying that, I'm not really interested in defending Haught at all.

Posted by Jared A on November 4, 2011 12:16 PM

Mano, We have been friends for over 40 years, I know you too well to think you are not not a nice guy, for not being "Politically Correct". The reason I said what I said was, because we live in an intolerant world where people with difference points of view or beliefs often resort to violence. I would prefer to see you putting your point across without insulting or ridiculing a person who holds different or even silly point of view. We should hate the "sin" not the "sinner".

Posted by Manik on November 4, 2011 09:43 PM