Dan Dennett talked about interviews with active priests and ministers who are atheists, and also mounted a hilarious attack on theologians like Karen Armstrong, who mouth pious nonsense like, “God is the God behind God.” Dennett calls this kind of language a “deepity”: a statement that has two meanings, one of which is true but superficial, the other which sounds profound but is meaningless. His exemplar of a deepity is the statement “Love is just a word.” True, it’s a word like “cheeseburger,” but the supposed deeper sense is wrong: love is an emotion, a feeling, a condition, and not just a word in the dictionary. He gave several examples of other deepities from academic theologians; when you see these things laid out — ripped from their texts — in a Powerpoint slide, they make you realize how truly fatuous are the lucubrations of people like Armstrong, Eagleton, and Haught. Sarcasm will be the best weapon against this stuff.
The first time I read this, I thought there was no way that's what Coyne meant to say - his words must have been, for lack a better phrase, "ripped from the text." Then I went and read the whole thing in context, which is what you do when you have even a modicum of respect for people with whom you disagree - or for the pursuit of knowledge generally.
But that didn't change anything. Coyne is actually suggesting that "ripping" the words of major writers "from their texts" - something the rest of us call "taking things out of context" - is the best way to engage in debate, rather than a tactic which would get you dismissed from any serious conversation. After all, most people respond positively to sneering contempt and lazy intellectual posturing. I think it's clear that whatever small interest people like this have in changing minds is totally overwhelmed by the pleasure they get from patting each other on the back. (By the way, for those who are interested, I took a more comprehensive look at this issue here.)