Michael Egnor doesn’t understand free speech


Persecution complex? Image from an Evolution News & Views post on the Discovery Institute’s exclusion from the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in 2016.

In a previous post, I brought up Michael Egnor’s criticism of a blog post by Jerry Coyne. The post in question was criticizing the laughably bad argument by John Staddon that secular humanism is a religion. Tellingly, Dr. Egnor’s post does not address the substance of Dr. Coyne’s criticism at all. Seriously, not one word of Egnor’s response answers a single one of Coyne’s arguments.

The one and only portion of Coyne’s post that Egnor responds to is this:

[T]he editors screwed up by accepting a piece that makes very little sense, and arrives at its conclusion by some risibly tortuous logic… Why did the editors of Quillette publish this odiferous serving of tripe?

Egnor characterizes this as “seeth[ing]”, “rant[ing]”, “hate[ful]”, and “malic[ious]”. I won’t pass judgement on that characterization. The piece does make very little sense, and it does use some risibly tortuous logic, as I’ve previously pointed out. “Odiferous serving of tripe?” I guess you could call that seething and ranting, but it is a few words out of a much longer, mostly impassive post. Anyway, Dr. Egnor is entitled to his opinion, and that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Rather, it’s this section of Egnor’s response to the quote above:

Coyne is of course free to disagree with Staddon’s conclusions. But he does not merely disagree. Coyne rants that Staddon’s essay should never have been published. In other words, he responds to the observation that atheism is censoriously thuggish by… being a censorious thug.

Take a moment to admire the footwork. Egnor accuses Coyne of advocating censorship in his “rant” that the piece “should never have been published.” But that is not what Coyne said. He said it shouldn’t have been published in QuilletteThat is a major, crucial distinction.

Jerry Coyne is criticizing a privately-owned magazine for publishing an article that is, in his opinion (and mine), poorly reasoned and self-contradictory. Michael Egnor thinks that is censorship. Michael Egnor does not understand what censorship is.

Criticizing a media outlet’s decision to publish something you think is lousy is not censorship. Quillette is free to publish or not publish anything they want. Jerry Coyne is free to criticize their editorial decisions. Michael Egnor is free to complain about it. None of that constitutes censorship.

This isn’t the first time members of the Discovery Institute have cried censorship where none existed. Back in 2016, I wrote about the absolute fit they were having over being excluded from the United Methodist Church’s General Conference. At the time, I said,

Because they don’t understand that free speech doesn’t obligate others to provide a platform, they think this decision amounts to ‘intolerance‘ and ‘censorship‘…

UMC has no more obligation to provide the Discovery Institute space in their conference than they do to provide space for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Scientology, or the Church of Satan. None of these exclusions would qualify as censorship.

In the three years since I wrote that, Michael Egnor still has not figured out how free speech works. Maybe I should submit this blog post to Evolution News & Views, and if they choose not to publish it, claim that I’ve been censored. If I did, my claim would be ridiculous, and I would deserve to be mocked for it. Michael Egnor’s suggestion that Jerry Coyne is trying to censor John Staddon is equally ridiculous, and he deserves to be mocked for it.


  1. Hoosier X says

    Most conservatives have a problem understanding “censorship” and “free speech,” but you’ll notice that this misunderstanding only applies when a conservative might be denied a forum for peddling his or her gibberish. They would never protest or comment when someone who disagrees is being denied a forum in a similar manner. Hypocrisy is one of the Five Pillars of Conservatism. It’s the most important one. They can’t function without it.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    Michael Egnor is in illustrious company, at least. If you’ve been following the the new recently, you will have seen that the supposed “leader of the free world” plus the White House yes-men that work for him also do not understand what censorship is.

    If they had their way, I’ll bet they would set up a “Government commission on Free Speech” to mandate to private organizations what they must publish and what they are prohibited from publishing. Let’s hope it never gets to that.

  3. says

    If they had their way, I’ll bet they would set up a “Government commission on Free Speech” to mandate to private organizations what they must publish and what they are prohibited from publishing.

    This is, indeed, exactly what the right wing is advocating, and has been since at least Nixon: well funded organizations that have editorial slants Nixon didn’t like were pilloried by Nixon (or Nixon attempted to pillory them?) for not publishing sufficient pro-Nixon content, and yes he was arguing that just months (maybe days, though I don’t have evidence for it) before he was forced to resign or be convicted in the Senate of high crimes & misdemeanors.


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