In which Michael Egnor steals the “shrill harpy” title

Over the years I’ve seen PZ Myers excoriate the odious Michael Egnor many times, and enjoyed it greatly.  Figured it’s time for me to get in on the act.

Here’s what happened:

JT Eberhard decries the despicable bullying that Jessica Ahlquist has received for her role in getting the prayer mural taken down at her high school, and expresses concern for her safety.

Egnor accuses Eberhard of “using a schoolgirl as a human shield.”

Now, I’m not sure if I actually agree with JT that the school has grounds to stop something that is essentially passive-aggressive behavior on the part of hostile students (wearing t-shirts), and Egnor may or may not be on the right side of that issue… but that’s not my point here.

What’s interesting to me is that Egnor has gone for a particular line of response that involves snidely insulting Jessica herself — dismissing her as an irrelevant pawn in this story, manipulated by the evil atheist community who merely wants to use her as a buffer against criticism because she’s a teenager.  In other words, he’s attacking her character with ageism while pretending to be defending her virtue, all in the service of minimizing the criticism against the bullying itself.

This is pretty rude, especially from my perspective since I’ve talked to Jessica Ahlquist on The Non-Prophets, and she was a great conversationalist.  Extremely bright, fully self-aware of what she was getting into, and coolly analytical about the constitutional issues involved.  Quite possibly my favorite guest of the last year.

Egnor’s on the attack, and instead of dealing head-on with the real issues of a school that deliberately pushed religion on its students and then looks the other way while someone is harassed, he chooses to piss and moan about how unfair it is that Jessica’s age somehow makes her a “shield” for adults who have the same concern.

This reminded me of something I once noticed about Ann Coulter — who, big surprise, is apparently a hero of Egnor’s.  I dug up the post.  It’s political, so it turned out to be something I wrote on my personal blog in 2006 when she was touring around to hype that bile-storm of a book she called “Godless.”

Ann was, at the time, incensed about a group of 9/11 widows speaking out against the Iraq war.  She said, “This is the Left’s doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 Commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we’re allowed to respond to? No, no, no, we always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die.”

But as I pointed out, Coulter doesn’t really know what it means to “respond to” someone.  In her view, “responding” is essentially identical to “attacking the character of.”  And what she was really complaining about, in the end, was that if she slings petty insults at a group of widows, she looks like a loathsome, morally retarded harpy.  And that’s totally not fair!

Egnor here is pulling a line out of the Coulter playbook.  He’s upset that he can’t very well deploy an ad hominem against Jessica directly, because he’ll wind up sounding like a total douche-nozzle for throwing in with the bullies.  (Not that this stopped her state senator from doing it.)  So he attacks Jessica — not for what she did, but just for being the kind of person that most people are sympathetic to.  And he does it by proxy, by pretending to attack people who are mainly concerned for her safety and well-being.


  1. Orlando says

    Wow, Coulter wrote my biography: Godless. I’m flattered. On a serious note, thanks for the post. I’m not familiar with Egnor so will have to check him out on Pharyngula. My knowledge of odious, stubby-fingered vulgarians apparently is limited to the Republican candidates, William Lane Craig, and a few others.

  2. davidct says

    The scary thing is that Egnor clearly demonstrates that a total lake of critical thinking skills is not an impediment becoming a successful physician.This has been repeatedly pointed out by Orac over at:

    With his religious privilege being challenged, he feels that he is entitled to display his bigotry proudly. That I suppose makes him a true Christian. Aren’t they a glory to behold?

  3. jacobfromlost says

    Psst. Russell. “Douche-nozzle” is a gendered slur also. Do you hate both men and women? (*Ducks flying objects from many directions*.)

  4. George From NY says

    Pinning a phony Language Police badge on one’s self and delivering smug diktats on what words other people are allowed to use is another thing decent people don’t do.

    And just because an insult is “gendered” doesn’t make it invalid. Fred Phelps sure is a despicable son of a bitch, eh? But we can’t say that about his equally creepy daughter.

  5. coffeehound says

    So… paraphrase Egnor (and by extension,Coulter)” Puppies are warm and fuzzy, and you look like a real asshole if you’re seen kicking them…..those bastard puppies!!”

  6. says

    Is it?
    I wouldn’t have thought so, especially since it actually comments on a person’s behavior instead of just their gender.
    On the other hand distinguishing between decent personal insults and indecent ones has never been my strongest suit.

  7. Kazim says

    I’m torn on this one. I admit that in the past I have called Ann Coulter some far worse woman-focused insults of which I’m not proud, and this one may be a toning down of those. I suppose I don’t win any points for the fact that I was also directing it at Egnor, a man — if the implied insult is that he’s womanly, eh?

    But I’ve got Lynnea handy as a moral compass, and her point of view is that it barely qualifies. So I’m going to leave the post as it is but be cautious about jumping to it in the future, k?

    Can I still call Egnor a dick? 🙂

  8. Orlando says

    OT, but Kazim, I know you are a GOP debate fan. If you missed last night’s debate you can read a summary in the Book of Revelation. In a bizarro worldview, Newt and Romney augured that god would play a role in their presidency and Mitt said he would look to the Declaration, not the Constitution, for providential guidance (presumably because that is where the Creator is mentioned).

  9. jacobfromlost says

    They say these things about the Declaration, as well as the Constitution, because they know no one has read them.

    The Declaration of Independence not only declares independence from England, but independence from the notion of the divine right of kings. This new god concept, a deist god, was one of nature–a god that gives everyone rights equally (well, at least white dudes). It even says that this document will explain to the world why “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them” is necessary in this instance. Nature’s god is mentioned BEFORE “Creator”, so even if we want to attribute “Creator” to the Christian god, it was a DIFFERENT KIND of Christian god than the previous one.

    You see, King George HAD the divine right of a king, given by that previous Christian god, and the founders said, “Yeah…uh…no, we don’t like that idea. We believe in a different kind of god–the kind that lets us tell you to go to hell in a very lengthy Declaration we will sign, ending with, ‘And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.'”

    They signed the declaration knowing if they got this wrong, they’d all be dancing at the end of a rope with no music. Of course, you can argue that some still felt this was the Christian god, but it certainly wasn’t the same Christian god who said you had to do whatever the king says because god made him the king (and believing you now get to tell the king to go suck a lemon is a VERY big difference between the previous god beliefs and the new ones).

  10. Orlando says

    Actually, from the context (which you can watch on Youtube or CNN), Mitt was implying a Mormon god. Remember, LDS is a peculiarly American religion where Eden is somewhere in Missouri (unless a newer revelation moved it to Utah). But you know all that, I’m sure, Jacob. Your post was informative.

  11. jacobfromlost says


    Sure, but Americans so easily forget that in rejecting England and England’s King, we rejected a god notion that was central to Christianity for a VERY long time (and there were no Mormons yet, so I don’t think it matters).

    One could make the argument that American Christians who constantly invoke individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness aren’t REAL Christians. 🙂 They rejected their king (traitors? lol), and hence in some real sense rejected the “king of kings” since the king of kings GAVE the authority to their king…that they rejected. (And now they celebrate that rejection as if it was a part of Christian beliefs all along. It wasn’t.)

  12. says

    Actually, Coulter referred to the 9/11 widows as “harpies” and “witches” previously, so this is a bit of circularity. It’s like poetry, really.

  13. Orlando says

    I prefer more deracinated and nuanced insults such as, to the daughter, “you are a real credit to your family.”

  14. Capt. Stormfield says

    To get a head start on understanding Egnor, think of a combination of WLCraig and David Berlinski with all the eloquence removed and a liberal coating of Dembski applied. Sorry, I must apologize for putting that image in your head.


  15. Orlando says

    Not to worry, I have nausea pills at the ready. As an English major, I find Berlinski’s orotund perorations on the transcendently divine nature of the novel especially annoying. Essentially, he argues that fiction proves the world is ontologically haunted.

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    Not that this stopped her state senator from doing it.

    The evil one-size-misfits-all Peter Palumbo thing is West Cranston’s state Representative, not Senator. (A Democrat, fwliw; to further confound US political stereotypes, Rhode Island’s Republican governor has spoken out in defense of Jessica Ahlquist and the First Amendment.)

    Note that Ahlquist is now guarded by police at all times at her school, to prevent a possible overdose of Christian love.

  17. John Kruger says

    Such a easy slam dunk of a court case, I wonder if more than a little of the animosity towards Ahlquist is due to the fact a high school student soundly beat them. And now they can’t throw insults without it reflecting poorly on them. Half their arguing style is crippled!

    I can only snicker at their frustration. I just hope Ahlquist does not need to become a martyr for this.

  18. says

    Dang! I’m late to this party. Just heard a non-prophets podcast mentioning Ms. Alquist and was hoping to find the interview(s). I think Matt even mentioned having her on the AE show. The link to the non-prophets interview in your (Russell’s) post is broken. Anyone know where to find the interviews/appearances? Thx!