I am honored by theologians: there’s now a “Coyne Fallacy”!!!

Who knew? For two years there has been a theological fallacy named after me, one imparted to me just today by reader Jon. Now I’m not sure how far this fallacy has spread among theologians, but I hope it goes far, for it’s ineffably stupid. The post in which it appears was written by William M. Briggs, whose website gives his name and the subtitle “Statistician to the Stars.”

First, who is William M. Briggs? Well, he answer the question on his site: “Who is W.M.B.?

Me

I am wholly independent; i.e., I have no position. I depend on you, dear reader, for my livelihood. I do not jest. The burden is on you. Hire the Dancing Briggs. Spread the word.

Résumé

Currently a vagabond statistician and Adjunct Professor of Statistics at Cornell. Thought leader (have your thoughts led by me). Previously a Professor at the Cornell Medical School, a Statistician at DoubleClick in its infancy, a Meteorologist with the National Weather Service, and a sort of Cryptologist with the US Air Force (the only title I ever cared for was Staff Sergeant Briggs).

No comment.

Here’s a photo:

briggs-youtube_0

On to The Coyne Fallacy, laid out in Brigg’s post about a terminally smug and arrogant book by Sophisticated Theologian™ David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox Christian whose views I’ve criticized before (see here). The book is The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, which I’ve read and discussed (see here and here, for instance).  It purveys the brand of Sophisticated Theology™ that sneers at atheists but also claims a knowledge of what God is really like:  and he turns out of course, not to be the kind of God that most Christians accept. (Think of a Ground of Being: an Orthodox version of Karen Armstrong.) But Hart knows better, for, due to his Deep Thinkings, he has a Pipeline to God Himself.

It’s not surprising that Briggs likes Hart’s book, because it posits a kind of God that can’t be empirically disproven. How do you know He exists, then? Briggs tell us!:

The transcendent God can be “‘investigated’ only, on the one hand, by acts of logical deduction and induction and conjecture or, on the other, by contemplative or sacramental or spiritual experiences.”

Hmm. . . a God immune to refutation by observation.

And, says, Briggs, the theistic, in-your-life savior God is a fiction concocted by atheists, because Christians don’t accept that kind of God! (my emphasis):

Because it turns out that the god modern-day atheists have in mind, what Hart calls the Demiurge, is a god Christians also reject. The Demiurge is a kind of “superior being”, a being like any other only more so, and it is this small-g god that the man-in-the-street atheist, and certainly those well known celebrity authors, find implausible or ridiculous. And so does the theologian.

Really, do Christians really reject the Demiurge? Because here are the data on what all Americans (not just Christians) believe, taken from a 2013 Harris poll:

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-11-36-26-am

Sounds like a Demiurge to me. But wait! Briggs then does a 180-turn, claiming that the average Christian doesn’t know who God is, and he/she might really believe in The Wrong Kind of God. Then we have to call in theologians like Hart to correct us:

Of the God, the necessary Being, the new atheist knows little to nothing. Well, maybe the Christian-, Muslim-, or Hindu-in-the-street knows little of Him either, in the sense of being unable to write down a philosophically consistent definition of just who and what God is. The theologian, however, can, and this is Hart’s task. To definite, delimit, demarcate just what it is the great religious traditions say about God. Hart’s isn’t a work of apologetics nor a list of proofs of God’s existence. It is an in-depth examination that spells out precisely who God is. Something very necessary for those who say they don’t believe in God: just what is it you don’t believe?

Now I’m not sure what the Great Religious Traditions are, but they are surely varied, even among Christians, and many are literalist. Read Aquinas or Augustine to see how literalistic they are, and how specific about the nature of God. How wrong they must have been–to have to be corrected by the likes of David Bentley Hart! What’s worse is the notion that theologians can distill these traditions and give us an idea of who god really is—in the absence of any evidence for a God. (Remember, though—Briggs thinks we don’t need that.)

But I must get to My Fallacy. Here it is:

Let’s get one popular fallacy out of the way. This is the most-people-believe-what’s-false-therefore-it’s-false fallacy, or the Coyne fallacy, named after its most frequent user, Jerry Coyne. This fallacy is used to reject a proposition because most people misunderstand or hold false beliefs about that proposition. So that if the average church or temple goer has a definition of God that suffers certain inconsistencies, therefore God doesn’t exist. If you accept that then you’d have to believe that since the average citizen has mistaken ideas about evolution (holding to Intelligent Design, say), therefore evolution is false. Truth is not a vote.

That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. The fallacy, ascribed to me, is to claim that because a group misunderstands the nature of something, that thing doesn’t exist. So it’s just as false to say God doesn’t exist because some Christians (or atheists) have a “false” notion of who He is as it is to say that evolution doesn’t exist because many people misunderstand it.

And yes, many people do misunderstand evolution. But there’s a difference between evolution and God. Do I need to point out that we have evidence for evolution but not for any kind of god, from Demiurge to the Ground of Being? That’s a big difference. So we can correct misunderstandings about evolution because, as evolutionary biologists, we know how it works. David Bentley Hart has only a knowledge of what other theologians said and whatever revelations strike him when contemplating the Numinous.

So, in contrast to the evolutionary process, neither David Bentley Hart, Briggs, nor anybody else knows who God really is—or even if there’s a god.

I am thus somewhat saddened to see that the Coyne Fallacy is lame—a version of the Courtier’s Reply. And, in the end, Briggs’s argument shows the Fallacy of the Coyne Fallacy.

I can haz better Coyne Fallacy pleez?

167 Comments

  1. busterggi
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Briggs sounds like the subconcious Sokol of apolegetics.

  2. BobTerrace
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    An 1800 turn – that is 180° turn 10 times. That must be from all that gas due to the ground beans.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      He’s spinning – if he held out his hands he could helicopter (defined as arm-waving so hard in defense of a dodgy argument that one takes off 🙂

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        When I was a uni, a helicopter was vomiting while spinning around. Impresarios would inject dye into food to make the vomit multi-coloured. An analogy thus presents itself.

        (No, I never did it. I did watch once. From a suitable distance.)

        • Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          I never saw it done, but I’d heard of the technique and held it in high esteem at one time. Actually, I had always assumed it was a Tasmanian invention, but clearly it was more widespread. (You can always learn new things here, even on a thread about theology.)

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted January 3, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

            I wouldn’t mind betting that one was invented by the Aussies and we pinched it!

            Unlike the Pavlova, Crowded House, and Phar Lap! 🙂

            • Posted January 3, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

              You could probably make a good circumstantial case for that being true!

              (Personally I would exchange Crowded House for Brendon McCullum though.)

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                You can’t have him either!!!

            • philfinn7
              Posted January 3, 2017 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

              Next you’ll be trying to claim Russell Crowe.

              • HaggisForBrains
                Posted January 4, 2017 at 4:52 am | Permalink

                😀

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted January 4, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

                Ha ha! You can have him if you like. He clearly developed his personality in Aus. 😀

        • gscott
          Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          I saw (again, from a safe distance) this technique demonstrated by a certain Kiwi known as ‘Mongo’. He called it the ‘spiral chunder’, and it was his victory celebration after winning the ‘chunder marathon’, an event of his own creation, I believe.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted January 3, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

            We called it the “chunder mile.” I don’t know who invented it, but it was already a thing when I started in 1982. You had to eat a cold meat pie, drink a glass of warm beer, then run a lap. That continued until the last person hadn’t vomited, who was declared the winner. That year a female friend won. She promptly celebrated with a helicopter.

            • gscott
              Posted January 3, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

              It was new to me in 1986, but obviously had been around a while. Mongo’s version involved nasty little sausages instead of meat pies, and included a forward-roll/somersault each lap, but the idea was the same. (BTW, this was at the Commonwealth Games InterHash in Edinburgh – I’m sure gravelinspectorAidan will know what that means.)

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted January 3, 2017 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

                We have something called the Hash House Harriers in NZ. At least we used to – they’re not in the town I live in at the moment so I don’t know if they’re still around. Given NZ’s history, they probably got their ideas from Scotland.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted January 4, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

                (Not getting a reply button under Heather’s reply.)

                We have something called the Hash House Harriers in NZ. At least we used to – they’re not in the town I live in at the moment so I don’t know if they’re still around. Given NZ’s history, they probably got their ideas from Scotland.

                Triple-H are definitely still around. I know (of) Hashers active in Scotland, Oxford and Hong Kong (I bet they go down with the “authorities” like a lead balloon, with an awful lot of bemusement too ; a pretty normal response), so I would be very surprised if they didn’t have Antipodean branches.
                For the 8 hour drive to go caving as a student, a stretched, crumpled and much abused tape of a HHH band called “Fartin’ Martin” was “music to cave to”. It was very scatological cover versions of assorted “classics”.
                Just to check that the state of mind of HHHers is globally constant, if a New Zealand HHH person “acquired” 30 bridesmaid’s dresses (possibly by means not exactly over-endowed with legality) would they (a) try to sell them, or (b) arrange a 30-strong bearded people pub crawl, wearing said bridesmaids dresses, with orange fake beards for those with no natural beard ?

              • gscott
                Posted January 4, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

                ‘a stretched, crumpled and much abused tape of a HHH band called “Fartin’ Martin” was “music to cave to”.’

                Funny you mention Fartin’ Martin – he was at the same event in Edinburgh, performing with his backup band, the Strumpettes.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted January 3, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

            Mongo sounds like a typical Kiwi nickname too!

            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted January 4, 2017 at 5:02 am | Permalink

              Perhaps borrowed from the old West

              • busterggi
                Posted January 4, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

                To give the original his due:

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongo_Santamar%C3%ADa

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted January 4, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

                Yes. Movies like Blazing Saddles, Cheech and Chong etc get a sort of social cult following here. They appeal to the Kiwi sense of humour, especially among men. If things get quiet at a barbecue, someone will quote from a silly movie and everyone is laughing, coming up with other quotes, making up new ones that fit people in the group etc.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t he still going in the same direction? (Five full rotations)

      • BobTerrace
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        He is too dizzy to tell where he is going.

  3. Ian Clark
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    “Coyne Fallacy” is an oxymoron.

  4. Claudia Baker
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    “Thought leader” – omfg.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Unclear thought leader, perhaps?

      • Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Or perhaps executive vice-president of extreme silliness.

      • Zetopan
        Posted January 7, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        To be more accurate: “Thought Scrambler”. That guy is a complete scatterbrain. Also see “Dunning–Kruger effect”.

    • Carl
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      The only prior reference I’ve see to “thought leader” is the self description of the pointy haired boss in the Dilbert comic strip. By that standard, the use seems appropriate here.

      • Newish Gnu
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        I’ve seen it in the real world — my employer uses that phrase. Publicly. They are quite proud of it.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 4, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          This is one of the few occasions when the “nuke it from orbit” comment is appropriate.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      My immediate reaction too.

      🙂

      cr

  5. Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Clearly there is a Coyne fallacy fallacy.

  6. Roger
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I knew it. The Demiurge is all the atheists’ fault. Those dang crazy atheists.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      I had a demiurge this morning, but it passed.

      • busterggi
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Demiurge, bah! i want a full Urge, not one of those tiny cups of it.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      I thought the demiurge was a function of prostate aging….

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Is this fellow not just stating the Argumentum ad Ignorantiam.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      That’s what I thought, possibly contaminated with Argumentum ad Populum.

  8. Sastra
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Something very necessary for those who say they don’t believe in God: just what is it you don’t believe?

    Oh ffs, one of the oldest variants of one of the oldest tricks in the apologetics textbook: instead of shifting the burden of proof, this time you shift the burden of definition. OOoo.

    Ask the atheist to define God — and then laugh and go “Nu uh, that’s not it! Ha ha! Try again!” Continue along this line as long as you like, or until the weary atheist asks you for the definition, upon which you wave your hands around and explain that God is not explainable, a God which can be defined is not God, and placing God on the level of “a Being” of any kind means you’re not even close. Ha ha!

    Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the argument for the existence of God I’m most likely to come across in real life is not the Argument from Design, nor the Kalam, nor any of the standard ones on the major lists. It’s the Argument from Well I Don’t Believe in THAT God Either. It’s trotted out with astonishing regularity, and with a flourish. The so-called Coyne Fallacy is part of this glorious tradition, along with the tradition of insisting that Richard Dawkins only ever deals with fundamentalism.

    Liberal theists are very, very emotionally focused on how NOT fundamentalist they are. This gives them an emotional investment in discovering that all arguments against the existence of God are really just arguments against fundamentalism.

    The transcendent God can be “‘investigated’ only, on the one hand, by acts of logical deduction and induction and conjecture or, on the other, by contemplative or sacramental or spiritual experiences.”

    Any attempt to ground God in logic or reason alone usually ends up being or resembling an Ontological Argument, in which God is subtly identified with Existence or Being or Reality — and then sneak mental things back into it when no one is looking.

    And those who cite spiritual experiences as prima fascia evidence generally refuse to consider explanations which go below surface appearance.

    • Carl
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Something very necessary for those who say they don’t believe in God: just what is it you don’t believe?

      Oh ffs, one of the oldest variants of one of the oldest tricks in the apologetics textbook: instead of shifting the burden of proof, this time you shift the burden of definition. OOoo.

      Historically, this may be the most monumental blunder ever made by theists. Spinoza, said, “fine, here you go” with his Ethics and Theological-Political Treatise. Religion in the West has been crumbling ever since.

    • Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Can you just respond with “I don’t believe in God, no matter how you define him”?

      • Sastra
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        No. That would be a poor move, because it would shift the discussion into emotional territory and make it seem like I’m carrying some sort of grudge. It gives them the high ground. Better I say I haven’t seen the term defined in a way which stood up to scrutiny but I’d just LOVE to hear their definition, it might be ever so much better than all the other ones. It might even be one I haven’t come across!!!

        If that doesn’t induce them to ante up, then at least it’s a decent attempt.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted January 3, 2017 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

          A reasonable response to the fundies is that we don’t believe what they preach because all the evidence is against it. To the Sophistimicated Theologians, a reasonable response is what I refer to as “Hitchens’ Dictum” (“What can be asserted without evidence can be rejected without evidence”).

          Or, to put it the phraseology of particle physics, the fundies are wrong; the other group is not even wrong.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      “Just what is it you don’t believe?” Whattayagot? I find I don’t believe in any of it. Your move!

    • kelskye
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      “It’s the Argument from Well I Don’t Believe in THAT God Either.”
      I sometimes wonder why anyone thinks that’s effective – my guess is that it’s a way to shut down the conversation rather than take on the cognitive dissonance. Because such a statement doesn’t change a thing about or atheist’s position. The atheist still hasn’t been given any reasons to believe in theism, so the information is as useful as sharing in the mutual disbelief in Santa.

      This is where I wish the conversation would not be about God, but about what we know the nature of nature to be. Then the conversation isn’t about whether one believes in God (rightly defined), but about what the world is. That seems a far more fertile ground for discussion.

      • Sastra
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        I think most of the people who use the Argument From I Don’t Believe in THAT God Either believe this somehow does defeat atheism, since it positions the atheist as unsophisticated and ignorant. If only we knew what they know! It may also be a bid for what Greta Christina calls “the Atheist Seal of Approval,” which is supposed to be bestowed by atheists gushing over how fine and lovely their concept of God is, if only all theists believed as they do there would be no atheism. This seems to stem from the belief that atheism is caused by someone’s exposure to ideas of gods (or believers) which are insufficiently kind, peaceful, and nonjudgmental.

        Since the sophisticated God of the theologians seems very close to a claim about the nature of nature, if you’re right then that makes for a fertile ground for discussion.

        • kelskye
          Posted January 3, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          “since it positions the atheist as unsophisticated and ignorant”
          Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, though still seems like a terrible argument. The case is not made for evolution by pointing out the creationist’s ignorance of evolution. It’s not even made by saying it’s ignorant, but demonstrating how it differs from the misconceived view. Otherwise it’s simply an appeal to authority: “You don’t have the authority to believe in God, but I do. Checkmate.”

        • reasonshark
          Posted January 5, 2017 at 7:51 am | Permalink

          Since the sophisticated God of the theologians seems very close to a claim about the nature of nature, if you’re right then that makes for a fertile ground for discussion.

          That’s giving them credit where none has been earned. David Bentley Hart alone writes word salads intended to disguise the fact that his “Ground of Being” is nothing more than the usual New Age “mind=universe” claptrap, as you yourself have pointed out. Anyone trying tactics like “That’s Not MY God” is letting the conclusion (“There’s a god”) lead the argument – wishful thinking, motivated reasoning, and so on – which is the exact opposite of intellectual honesty.

          If you want to make progess understanding the nature of nature, go see a physicist or a cosmologist.

          • Sastra
            Posted January 5, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

            Agree. But at least if we’re successful then the discussion has finally gotten down to the basic, generic nitty gritty issue of naturalism vs. supernaturalism. “The nature of nature is mental.” Case for, case against.

            But of course, true to form, sophisticated theists usually fight like hell against this sort of clarity. The Ground of Being God (which is nothing like what atheists think it is, by definition, it seems) is NOT mind, mind-like, or intrinsically linked to mental attributes. It’s got to be totally different from anything familiar — and this makes them too much like us for comfort.

            Removing any hint of thought, consciousness, awareness, intention, intelligence, moral sensitivity, love, desire, curiosity, creativity, realization, and/or the capacity to have goals and give a damn about what happens, however, probably leaves the sophisticated theologians dealing with an apophetic God which is too empty even for them.

    • Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Yes — they always sit back smugly and say “Well I don’t believe in *that* God either”, without noticing that the evidence that isn’t there for *that* God, also isn’t there for whatever-the-fuck God they believe in either.

      • Sastra
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        But if their God exists it would leave no evidence. Checkmate, atheists!

    • eric
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      “…the argument for the existence of God I’m most likely to come across in real life is…the Argument from Well I Don’t Believe in THAT God Either.”

      Yes, there seem to be lots of Christian theologians who pray to Jesus in church on Sunday but defend gound-of-being deism in the classroom on Monday.

      Perhaps confronting them directly with the specifics of Christian theology is the way to go. Pointedly ask them whether they say the Nicene (or Apostles) creed…and if they are sincere when they say it. This would be sort of like the theology-equivalent of Jerry pointedly asking Ruse whether he vaccinates his kids.

      [Aside; my church-going aunt very proudly and publicly admits she skips over the parts she doesn’t believe. Its not like prevarication is necessary to be a good Christian.]

      • Sastra
        Posted January 4, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

        Sophisticated theologians (like sophisticated believers) generally answer clear, direct questions by saying that these questions make no sense in the context of God. Obvious contradictions are dismissed by further claims of divine inapplicability.

        And if the uniqueness of God’s not the problem, then the immaturity of the atheist is. Until we grow up spiritually and have that “aha!” moment, then we’re going to be like children who are good at arithmetic suddenly dealing with advanced calculus, or like two-dimensional beings encountering the concept of a third. Atheists have the overweening arrogance of blinkered self-pride, which is why we don’t have the humility to grasp that we can’t bring God down to our level in order to understand Him. We must reach towards His level.

        Basically, this comes down to what I call a Neener Neener Argument for God. “I’m better/bigger/wiser/smarter/humbler than you and that means I can discern more, so neener, neener, God exists.” In other words, it’s got all the appeal and charm of a presuppositional argument — or a schoolyard taunt delivered by a third grader to a first.

        • eric
          Posted January 4, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

          Sophisticated theologians (like sophisticated believers) generally answer clear, direct questions by saying that these questions make no sense in the context of God.

          I agree with you. I’d point out (to them), though, that asking someone “are you being sincere when you recite the Apostle’s creed” has zero to do with either the atheist or the believer needing to know the true nature of God. Either they were sincere or they weren’t. If they were, then defending a ground-of-being, minimalist, deistic sort of entity is defending someone else’s God, not theirs.

          • Sastra
            Posted January 5, 2017 at 5:29 am | Permalink

            True, but I suspect most of these “sophisticated ” believers are sophisticated enough to know that they can answer that of course they are sincere when they recite the Apostles Creed. It’s just that you have such an uninspired, flat, crude, unsophisticated understanding of what each tenet means, and what it means to believe sincerely.

            Calvinball.

            • reasonshark
              Posted January 5, 2017 at 9:12 am | Permalink

              Calvinball.

              It’s more like the old standby of Proof by Repeated Assertion: if I keep saying “you’re wrong, I’m sophisticated”, then it’s true. I haven’t said why it’s true, but details, schmetails…

              And then, when pressed, it turns out “cleverness” means “ignoring/belittling any rule with the potential to upstage me”. For instance, when Dawkins points out that anything capable of designing the complex world we live in must be even more complex just to keep track of the multiple variables involved… just ignore that requirement and assert god is simple because it’s one substance, etc., as if that answers the problem at all.

              The only thing keeping them from being con artists with degrees is the possibility that they really believe this garbage they come up with.

              • Sastra
                Posted January 5, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

                The idea that God is simple and without parts is founded on the intuition that our own minds are simple and without parts. So it’s not just “but the definition says –.” They also think a complex God would be counterintuitive.

                Since at least part of their obfuscations are pulled out of folk theories of mind and physics, I think you’re probably right about their sincerity. They cover up naive primitive assumptions with so much verbiage and glitter that they’ve fooled themselves into thinking they’ve gotten very deep indeed.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted January 4, 2017 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

          This seems like a good place to adduce two quotations from Walter Kaufmann’s The Faith of a Heretic:

          “Every book and every discussion presuppose the will to be honest. The man who repudiates honesty repudiates discussion. There is no point in dialogue with a man who does not acknowledge this standard.” (section 3)

          “Where the heretic would say No, the theologian interprets.” (section 28)

          • Carl
            Posted January 4, 2017 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

            All honor to Walter Kaufmann. A great man, great writer, and great thinker. Anyone unfamiliar with Kaufamnn will be greatly rewarded by picking up Critique of Religion and Philosophy, Faith of a Heretic, or any of his several other books. See what an atheist from a generation ago had to say.

            His book on Nietzsche and many Nietzsche translations are also stellar.

  9. Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I concur. That is just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard too . . . and I’m from Florida!!

    • jeremy pereira
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Clearly neither you nor Jerry Coyne have plumbed the depths of fundamentalist dumbness then. The dumbest thing I ever read went something like “evolution can’t be true because of entropy. For evolution to work, you’d need some sort of enormous external energy source in the sky”.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 4, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        That’s extremely good. It may even beat “Tide comes in, tide goes out, explain that!”

        cr

        • jeremy pereira
          Posted January 6, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

          Come to think of it, it isn’t dumb, it’s absolutely true.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 6, 2017 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

            Actually both statements are true.

            The dumbness wasn’t in the statement, it was in the presumption that nobody knows why it happens.

            (Hint: Almost everybody since – probably – the Middle Ages knows the moon has something to do with the tides…)

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fSlJaZrUhs

            cr

      • Posted January 6, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        Hahaha. Wow, that IS pretty dumb. But how dumb can an individual be and still use “entropy” correctly in a sentence??? #dontthinktoohardaboutthat

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    A better Coyne fallacy should have something to do with cats. I am open to suggestions, having been a ‘Thought Leader’ on this weighty matter.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      My thoughts too. Perhaps the Coyne Fallacy is that a god without cats and cowboy boots is not a true god.

      • BobTerrace
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        What a thought came to mind! A deity cat wearing cowboy boots!!!11!!!

      • Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        So there is one true scripture, the Puss in Boots.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        I can produce a cat with boots or a cat god, but not both.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Very good, people. Now, as Thought Leader I shall take the credit.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      The Coyne Fallacy: underlying the fabric of reality, there is a deep, occult connection between cats, cowboy boots, and pie.

      It’s a fallacy because I don’t wear cowboy boots.

  11. Pliny the in Between
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    The Coyne Fallacy:

    There is some degree of empirical evidence (n) that will eradicate a given irrational belief from a population.

    • Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      There is some degree of empirical evidence that will eradicate

      This implies the presence of some degree of reason in the population under consideration.

      a given irrational belief from a population.

      Irrational beliefs are not subject to reason.
      I’d like to think that there is a faster way to eradication of religion (all of them) than by banning it’s brainwashing into children, but I don’t really believe that religion can be eradicated without an effective prohibition on child abuse by brainwashing. Small numbers might be freed from this pernicious mindset by argument, but most will stick thoughtlessly to the ideas injected into them as children.

      • reasonshark
        Posted January 5, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        Irrational beliefs are not subject to reason.

        They are subject to reason. It’s just that they overwhelmingly suck at it.

  12. ploubere
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    “Thought Leader”. Hmm, I’ll have to add that to my cv, after Innovation Explorer, Crayon Evangelist and Chief Amazement Officer.

  13. Arno Matthias
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Here’s my suggestion for a better (?) Coyne fallacy, and that is talking about god. It’s a word that signifies nothing, that is devoid of meaning, like heaven, hell, angel, soul, satan, and the like. To fully feel its emptiness, take any religious text and replace the word god with any other 3 letter nonsense word.

    • Arno Matthias
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Another version of the Coyne fallacy could be “asking for evidence for god”. As Einstein and others have pointed out, you can’t tell people “Go and find evidence!” It must be clear what the subject of the research is, and what counts as evidence for that subject.

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I come around to the idea that the best question to ask a believer is not ‘what is your god like?’ but ‘how does your god interact with the world?’.

        If you get some boiler plate answer like ‘he lives in peoples’ hearts’ ask them if he lives in tsunamis or earthquakes.

        • Arno Matthias
          Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

          I disagree: I think it is critical to ask the ontological question before all other questions.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 4, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Or in tapeworms. Don’t leave them the refuge of dividing the world simply into “animate” and “inanimate”, or “human” and “animal”. They’re slippery buggers, the godly, and they’ll slither through any hole you leave them.

  14. Ken Phelps
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I am once again unable to resist the image of a small boy, dressed in his father’s shoes and fedora, overcoat trailing on the ground behind him, clomping about the house, waving a felt marker about as if it were a cigar, and he a tycoon.

    It is human nature, I suppose, to ape those we are not. But really, inventing fallacies? Perhaps in the future you should check to make sure the cap is on the marker, Mr. Briggs, your lips lips are bright yellow.

  15. Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Coyne Fallacy proper: There is no need to add thoughts on something that is widely discussed already, except for cats. There can never be enough cats.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      But that’s not a fallacy!

  16. kelskye
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    When a theist says this, I’m always fine with it. The burden is still on them to demonstrate their god, so if they don’t believe in what atheists claim is God either, then they still have the burden.

    It’s not on us to entertain every possible incarnation of God and disprove all of them. That would not only be impossible given our limited time, but pointless. If theists have a particular form of God they want to claim exists, it’s on them to demonstrate it.

    This is a weak attempt to dismiss the sceptical voice, rather than demonstrate their beliefs.

    • eric
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      I believe sneaking in the argument “its on you to disprove all possible incarnations” without being noticed is exactly the point.

      • kelskye
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

        A less pernicious interpretation, perhaps, is to think about the exercise as a personal avoidance of cognitive dissonance. Not so much that an atheist has to disprove every god, but that the atheist’s disbelief doesn’t include their God. That way they can keep on believing without having to deal with the sceptical voice.

        I’m amazed at how many theists I still encounter who believe that Dawkins’ argument in The God Delusion is that 6 Day Creation is false, ergo God is false. That it’s not Dawkins’ argument is besides the point, because it allows them to say Dawkins didn’t address their belief.

        Worst one I ever had was a theist who was so confident in his assessment of the God question, he challenged me to give the 5 best arguments against God’s existence, and he would show me how they were all hopelessly flawed. When I did it, he dismissed them all out of hand as “not being the God I believe in”. Yet when I pressed him on his claims, it turned out that his belief rested on his emotional reaction to reading scripture – so my arguments about the problems of non-temporal agency, problem of irreducible analogy, problem of naturalism, etc. didn’t count against his analogy-laden non-temporal interventionist deity because I didn’t include the bit about his emotional response to scripture.

        So I don’t think it’s about them demanding the disproof of all gods. It’s about them saving their own in the face of scepticism. The problem of the rhetoric is that it’s only good until someone probes it, then they get condescending and dismissive.

  17. Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    The fun thing is, the author William M. Briggs, believes he can find a definition of God, and you must accept it, but laughes off physicists definitions of “nothing” when they are anything else than idealized nothingness (which does not exist, as far as we know). From Part II.

    It’s difficult, thus far impossible, to get Enlightened persons to understand nothing. Lord knows it’s been tried. Some physicists—Larry Krauss, Vic Stenger, Stephen Hawking, others—make a nice living misunderstanding nothing. Still, where there’s life there’s hope. So let’s try again.

    Nothing is no thing. It is not some thing. It is not some thing very small or difficult to see. It is not some thing far away in time or distance. It is not a quantum field, for a field is something. It is not a set of mathematical or physical laws, for sets of laws are something. It is obviously not an infinity of universes, for an infinity of universes is certainly something. It is not time, for time is not nothing.

    It’s ridiculous from the outset already. Those people are still trapped in thousand year old Platonistic views that just don’t hold up anymore, concerned with essences and conceptual purity that knows nothing of cognition, abstractions, mental models and representations.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

      I’d say William M Briggs certainly understands nothing. He’s good at doing a sort of Gish Gallop of plays on words and dictionary hairsplitting on a superficial level.

      cr

    • darrelle
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      I wonder if they are trapped or are opportunistically using them because they work great. This person is basically a carny and the marks he is targeting are impressed by thousand year old Platonistic views.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 4, 2017 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        carny, yes.

        cr

  18. kelskye
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny, when theists have said this to me in the past, I’ve pressed them on what God actually is. It turns out they have many of the same beliefs about God as ordinary theists do, but they don’t like the characterisation of ordinary theism.

    If they don’t believe in a personal being, then they can stand alongside the atheists and declare the falsity of all those who do believe in a personal being. You can declare sentences like “God is watching over us”, or “Jesus died for our sins” or “God loves us all” as the incoherent extension of personal attribution where it doesn’t belong. But they don’t do that, because they actually believe that stuff. It’s just that they believe that stuff in a philosophically-informed way.

    The more I read philosophy of religion, the more I realised just how little substance there is in sophisticated theology. It’s the same belief, but with a whole lot of sophistry that gives permission to the believer to keep believing.

  19. Rob Munguia
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations Professor Ceiling Cat, you are becoming famous in the rarefied theological world 😉 Maybe the lack of oxygen at those high altitudes is the explanation of the origin of the lame fallacy.

  20. rickflick
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Candidate Coyne fallacy:

    Sophisticated theologians and their ilk should be expected to be rational and sincere.

  21. Robert N
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    For those aspiring to add “thought leader” to their CVs, here is a very basic introduction to a few of the mannerisms you should make second nature https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZBKX-6Gz6A

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 5:18 am | Permalink

      Brilliant, thanks!

  22. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    So someone “coyned” a new fallacy, eh? How long until you become a verb like “google”? 🙂

  23. Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Celebrate the fact that 20 years ago no-one discussed the inherent silliness of theology – ah, the loud, angry (but protracted) gurgle as superstition goes down the plughole of history.

    rz

    • Carl
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      20 years? Please! This honorable tradition stretches back further than Christianity.

  24. Dean Reimer
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Ironically, the more “sophisticated” the theology, the less the deity that emerges requires the worship that we associate with religion. Seriously, what does a “Ground of Being” need of a puny human’s adulation and worship?

    Seems to me these Sophisticated Theologians™ are talking themselves into irrelevance.

    • nicky
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      Do you mean like “Any theology sophisticated enough is indistinguishable from atheism”?
      😊

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 4, 2017 at 5:23 am | Permalink

        Nice one!

  25. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Quantum physics would provide just as rich a gold mine as evolution re misunderstandings.
    (I don’t understand Quantum physics super-well but I certainly understand it better than I do evolutionary biology.)
    Clearly, we have lab evidence for quantum physics that we don’t have for deities,
    non-anthropomorphic or personal.

    However, to be fair to the somewhat snarky and smug David Bentley Hart, the apophatic God he believes in is far far more prevalent in his Greek Orthodox church than it is in Western Christianity.
    Furthermore, Aquinas and Augustine believe in a deity that has elements of Hart’s God, but whom also acts in the world.
    The Demiurge-God is a maker of the world, a sort of primal fountain and Source of everything that exists.
    The apophatic God is more like a medium that the cosmos subsists in, like the ether discarded by physicists once assumed to be penetrating the whole cosmos as a medium of light.
    But Augustine and Aquinas have it both ways. They consider God to be both a creator who acts in the world and also attribute Ground of Being qualities to him.
    As such they are not quite in discontinuity with Hart as JAC’s post implies.

    • Posted January 4, 2017 at 1:06 am | Permalink

      I remember seeing a conservative columnist and blogger (whose blog I no longer read, but whose writing occasionally pops us in the New York Times) become all enthusiastic over David Bentley Hart, making blog posts crowing “here’s a God you atheists can’t disprove.”

      Many of his liberal readers simply took the tack that Hart’s God certainly didn’t have an opinion on same-sex marriage, which was sort of a bread-and-butter issue for him.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      You cannot determine both the position and motion of doG. If you try to observe doG the deity function collapses and doG disappears. Thus you may say anything you like about doGs or any other deities without fear of contradiction knowing that there can never be evidence that you are wrong. All deities imaginable are there in the box with Schroedinger’s cat – which may itself be a deity – just don’t open the box.

      • Bent Backenforth
        Posted January 4, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Apophatic apatheism is looking better & better.

  26. docbill1351
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    There can’t be a Coyne Fallacy because Jerry is “infallacyible.”

  27. josef johann
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t see Jerry, or any commenter, make what seems to me the most obvious observation. The Coyne “fallacy” is raising a very serious point, that the kind of sophisticated theology has nothing to do with what most Christians actually believe. That’s already, right there, a huge problem.

    That ought to be a massive crisis right in the heart and soul (pardon the pun) of Christianity, and that’s before we get to the question of whether *some other* version of Christianity might be right, besides the one adopted by the majority of supporters.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      the kind of sophisticated theology has nothing to do with what most Christians actually believe. That’s already, right there, a huge problem.

      A huge problem indeed. For “sophisticated theologians”. If the debates of the “sophisticated theologians” don’t deal with what people actually believe, then they have no grounds for funding from the public purse. Or, for that matter, from the funding of most churches.
      If a church body funds (directly, or indirectly) a theologian, whose product does not address the concerns of the members of the church, then is the church (and it’s financial officers) using the money donated by it’s members in a justifiable manner. I know that for other non-governmental bodies, doing that sort of thing would be liable to challenge in the courts. But you’d need a person with a financial stake in that particular church (presumably a member, donor and believer of that church) to launch the suit. It’s a potential line of attack, but finding that person to launch the suit is going to be tricky.

    • reasonshark
      Posted January 5, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      You are right. Perhaps part of it is that “sophisticated” theologians treat “unsophisticated” believers as sincere if bumbling amateurs, a bit like a marine biologist accepting a student’s gushing interest in sea creatures while wincing when they call a grey whale a “fish”.

      Now introduce someone hostile to the entire field they work in. I’d wager the “sophisticated” and the “unsophisticated” would band together against this naysayer in defence of a common field.

      That, and wilful ignorance and wishful thinking prevent the obvious house of cards from falling over at the first knock.

  28. Michael Fisher
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    This William M Briggs character is quite entertaining in small doses. I haven’t got the patience to read much of the stuff on his site but he seems to be a non-believer in global warming & some sort of Catholic. I noticed he has a real downer on atheists & he’s written a mini-ply that characterises them as akin to religious zealots [not his words – just my impression].

    Anyway this is the close of one his posts, subject: “Evolution & The Big Bang Are Perfectly Consistent With Christianity (And Catholicism)”

    LINK: http://wmbriggs.com/post/14566/

    QUOTE [ONE PARAGRAPH, BUT I’VE MADE IT 5 FOR READABILITY]: “…It’s actually atheism that’s anti-science. How any motion or change occurs can only be explained via meta-physical principles. There must be an Unmoved Mover or physics is impossible. Not unlikely. Impossible. (And so we’re back to Summa Contra Gentiles after all!)

    And have you seen some of the interpretations of quantum mechanics? What the Romans did to the Sabine women pales next to what these theories do to causality. Men jousting on the backs of pterodactyls are more plausible than atheistic science.

    It’s atheistic science which proclaims the obviously absurd anti-observational fruity idea that free will doesn’t exist.

    It’s atheistic science which insists morality can be discovered by what are in essence polls.

    It’s atheistic science which is on the ropes, sisters and brothers. Let it be on the defensive where it belongs. You play offense.”

    • Carl
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      It’s atheistic science which is on the ropes, sisters and brothers. Let it be on the defensive where it belongs. You play offense.”

      That’s the second funnies thing I’ve seen today. This is the first.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        Your puppy charmingly defending his grub is miles funnier than Briggs!

  29. josef johann
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    And I would think that if the public and the experts had significantly different idea of what evolution is, that too would be a problem. But (1) that doesn’t leave Christianity any better off* and (2) as Jerry said, at least with evolution it’s problem that could be fixed because the concept of evolution is in a world of facts and reasons and logical examination.

    But amazingly, Briggs seems to suggest, not that we would want to correct public perception in either of these cases, but that instead we should pay no mind to the entire problem of large swaths of people holding unsubstantiated beliefs.

    * If anything that would leave Christianity worse off. The worst that happens if you have bad beliefs about evolution is that you vote for politicians who defund science, which is bad, but nothing compared to eternal damnation for not following whatever apologists insist the one true faith is.

  30. Hempenstein
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think this guy is a real theologian (whatever that is).

    Real theologians wouldn’t impute a Fallacy to PCC(E) lest they confer on him an imprimatur of respectability, which might lead some of theirs to take note of him.

  31. steve oberski
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, any attempt to engage with William M. Briggs would look better on his CV than on Prof. Coynes

    • nicky
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      That wasn’t Dawkins, but an Australian whose name escapes me right now, will come back (I hope). Dawkins just cited him.

      • philfinn7
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

        Lord May of Oxford.

  32. jrhs
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    But Hart knows better, for, due to his Deep Thinkings, he has a Pipeline to God Himself.”

    Hahahaha… here is a fallacy. You cannot reach God via a Pipeline even if He exits. Some kind of Wi-fi might work though. LOL.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      Can’t pass up the opportunity to repeat this joke!

      “Why don’t churches offer free wi-fi?”

      “Because no church wants to compete with an invisible power that actually works!”

  33. Posted January 3, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone know what a “ground of being” is? Is it anything like the ground of beef my butcher is happy to sell me?

    • steve oberski
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Think of it as Theological sausage making.

  34. eric
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Something very necessary for those who say they don’t believe in God: just what is it you don’t believe?…

    …[The Coyne] fallacy is used to reject a proposition because most people misunderstand or hold false beliefs about that proposition.

    My own response to this would simply be to say “okay theologian, let’s just limit the conversation to the particular conception of God that you believe in. Sure there may be many others, but we can take them in turn…after you’ve given us evidence of your particular conception.”

    Briggs’ defense relies on the fact that there can be an infinite number of conceptions of ‘god’ and thus any argument against one may not be relevant to another (conception). This is true (particularly in the case of deism vs. theism; a lot of counter-theism arguments do not apply to deistic entities). But it’s only a problem if a theologian does the intellectually dishonest trick of changing their conception in mid-discussion. If they start with one and defend it as the right one, the fact that there are other conceptions that may not have their conceptions’ flaws should be irrelevant to both participants.

    The constantly-shifting-definition trick is just that; a trick. Not rigorous or honest academic discussion. And in the end, it amounts to demanding that atheists prove no definition of god is even philosophically possible.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      “okay theologian, let’s just limit the conversation to the particular conception of God that you believe in.

      At which point, you’re asking the god-squaddy to list their beliefs. No sensible god-squaddy would agree to that, because they recognise it as a hostage to fortune which could be used against them in the future. (Of course, there are huge supplies of not-sensible god-squaddies.)

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted January 4, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

        All true. What I find even more amusing is that in various fundie circles (Baptist, Mormon) someone will ask you if you believe in god, and if you say no they will ask you which god you don’t believe in. Then, no matter how finely you detail your non-belief, at some point you’ll diverge ever so minimally from their theology, and they will go “gotcha!–not the god I believe in either”.

        That’s why I think that Eric’s comment, “okay theologian, let’s just limit the conversation to the particular conception of God that you believe in. Sure there may be many others, but we can take them in turn…after you’ve given us evidence of your particular conception.” is spot on.

      • eric
        Posted January 5, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        This speaks more to the intellectual dishonesty of the theologian side than it does anything else.

        We’re trying to understand a topic; being detailed and specific about our positive propositions thus makes sense; we want to analyze each other’s propositions for flaws. In contrast they’re trying to win a debate. You try not to make a concrete positive proposition when you’re trying to win a debate, because having the other guy analyze it for flaws is exactly what you don’t want them to be able to do.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted January 6, 2017 at 12:16 am | Permalink

          Superb analysis. And the religious (fundie or la-la) don’t understand, because they project their goal of “winning the debate” on to others, not understanding that some people prefer to understand the world, rather than to continue to adhere to certain traditional ideas.

          Or, as House so memorably put it, “If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.”

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 6, 2017 at 9:08 am | Permalink

          We’re trying to understand a topic;

          And there’s the problem. That’s not just a mistake, but a sin. Anything which is not uncritical acceptance of (whatever line of bullshit the theologian of the week is trying to sell) is an utter sin.
          Utter intellectual dishonesty is built into the subject from the foundations up to the minarets.

  35. Posted January 3, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    There is no consensus of believers on God in Christianity, or other religions. There are no uniform, consistent definitions believed by all. If you argue with a Christian, you receive one person’s (or one sect’s) interpretation. Every individual or sect defines differently, and their nuances are considered by them to be essential. Expecting to argue sensibly with any Christian (or Christians) about God is akin to herding cats. From the beginning of what subsequently became Christianity,leaders have not agreed on the core elements of the faith. After the Bible became available to all literate people to read, not exclusively priests, interpretations broke all bounds and proliferated. The
    non-existent genie will not be put back in the bottle.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 3, 2017 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

      Now you’ve put the finger on where the religions started to go wrong. They should never have let anyone teach the peasants to read…

      cr

  36. eric
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    The real Coyne fallacy: “What could possibly go wrong with my idea to adopt a bengal kitten after I retire?”

    🙂

  37. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    “On to The Coyne Fallacy, laid out in Brigg’s post…”

    Well I followed the link, read about two paragraphs of it, went “Bleeargh I can’t take any more of this shit today” and gave up.

    Err, “Statistician to the Stars” – wtf? Why would the stars need a statistician? Not to mention ‘Thought Leader’ which just invites derisive speculation about what sort of people need their thoughts leading and in what direction.

    cr

  38. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    The Demiurge I’m familiar with is from Plato’s Timaeus dialgue. It’s not a god that created the universe ex nihilo, but a craftsman who fashioned and maintains the universe out of pre-existing material from a more-fundamental cause. Thus, Briggs is doubly wrong: this is not the god any fundamentalists believe in; nor is it a god any non-believers accuse them of worshiping.

  39. Posted January 3, 2017 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    sub

  40. Posted January 3, 2017 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    At least you have a fallacy named after you! Dont worry now. Fallacy 2.0 might be better.

  41. Posted January 4, 2017 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    I had never heard of W.M. Briggs, but after doing some investigating and some reading, I have to say that his arguments are fascinating – but only in the way that a 70 car pile-up in a white-out is fascinating. If you read some of his stuff, it becomes rather clear why he seems to be a fan of Hart’s: they have very similar writing and argumentative styles. And he seems to really love Aristotle and Aquinas.

    I will say that I have serious doubts about how he represents himself on his website. I cannot find any mention of him as an Adjunct Professor at Cornell. The Stats Department explicitly lists adjunct faculty, and he is nowhere to be found. I find that extremely suspicious.

    I spent about an hour skimming through the book he just published: “Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics”. The operative word in that title is “soul”. Here are a few golden excerpts that encapsulate his style quite well, I think.

    -p. 11: “…the sin of *scientism*. This is the false belief that the only truths we have are scientific truths. Since scientific truths are only conditional at best, and likely only probably and sometimes false in fact – a truth captured in the slogan ’science is self-correcting’, which implies it errs – it is not possible that it is a necessary truth that conditional or probably truths are necessary truths…. It is not from science we learn ‘I exist’.”

    He is also every bit as contemptuous of statistics as a means to talk about uncertainty. That seems to be a main focus of his book.

    -p. 12: “We know axioms and the like are true because our intellects tell us they are, and we *trust* that our intellects are not misleading us; that is, we have *faith* in our inductions. Faith is in this sense ultimate belief, the ground of all our beliefs…. We prove via induction an axiom is true. This is knowledge. And then we believe, or have faith (if you like), in this knowledge.”

    Besides the fact that he is misusing the word axiom (by definition, it is something you take for granted, *not* prove), the whole thought is circular.

    -p. 114: “Cause is analogical. There is not one type of flavor or aspect of cause, but four: a formal, material, efficient, and final or teleological.”

    He later twists these four “flavors” into necessary properties of causation; i.e. he seems to be of the opinion that all causes have a purpose.

    -p. 115: “Knowledge of cause is above, or rather beyond or deeper than, knowing what happens…. Knowledge of cause is the grasping of essence, of the natures and substantial forms of the objects under consideration. None of these things are material in themselves, but are universals above and beyond the material world. Thus to come to knowledge of cause is to understand universals, which we get through a form of induction. Induction is the immaterial “movement” from finite particularities to an infinite generality and is such that only rational creatures can accomplish it.”

    The old “that which I can’t explain becomes infinite” maneuver.

    -p. 156: “The best model is no model. The best model is to just look at the data, evidence, and premises gathered and ponder them. *No* model is ever needed to tell us what we observed, the first step in gaining an understanding of essence and nature. We know what we observed because we have observed what we have observed. That sounds like a useless sentence, but it isn’t. It is emphasized because it is everywhere (in professional circles) doubted and perhaps even disbelieved. I have often put it to statisticians and the most positive response I have received was a blank stare.”

    I certainly believe that last sentence!

    • rickflick
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 1:35 am | Permalink

      Thanks for doing all that leg work. It IS more fascinating than 70 cars simulating slinkies in coitus.

    • eric
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Interesting. So, he’s not so much a crank statistician as he is a crank who self-labeled himself a statistician.

      In the up side, that’s refreshingly different from the run-of-the-mill cranks claiming to be scientists.

    • TJR
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Ye gods, that’s even worse than the usual cookery book statistics using SPSS (though arguably less damaging).

      Thanks for taking one for the team, there.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Ed, for your diligence, though personally I’d rather watch the 70-car pileup.

      “*No* model is ever needed to tell us what we observed, the first step in gaining an understanding of essence and nature. We know what we observed because we have observed what we have observed.”
      – what the hell does that mean? I just observed a hairy thing with four legs on my lawn, which I classified as a [model:] cat (and so, I think, did the birds); I assume Mr Briggs would have to classify it as ‘hairy thing with four legs’ which is not useful, not even for the birds.

      cr

      • reasonshark
        Posted January 5, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        I think he’s aiming for the old “cogito ergo sum”: that there can be no doubt whatsoever that I (or rather you yourself) am a sentient being because the immediacy and primacy of our experience, the mere ability to try and doubt it, instantly and undeniably proves it. It is how we get philosophical concepts like idealism (there is only my mind, no real world beyond it), solipsism (the only conscious entity at all is me), and the Matrix (everything about the entire world I experience is a total illusion).

  42. kelskye
    Posted January 4, 2017 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    “Well, maybe the Christian-, Muslim-, or Hindu-in-the-street knows little of Him either, in the sense of being unable to write down a philosophically consistent definition of just who and what God is.”
    I’ve been thinking about this comment all day, and I think it’s the most telling. The exercise, as it seems to imply, is not whether the common Christian beliefs are false, but the way we make sense of them is.

    What the theologian is attempting to do is not do away with Christianity, but try to give a framework in which a Christian belief is defensible. Atheists, in this view, aren’t misguided in the sense that they are going after a straw-man of the beliefs themselves, but going after a straw-man of the framework that makes sense of such beliefs.

    Theologians, whatever belief system they are operating in, already have the answer to what God’s nature is. They don’t need to debate whether there’s one god or many, whether that god has an interest in humanity and interferes in human events, or whether that god died for our sins on the cross – their religion tells them that. What they are looking for is the right justification to keep believing that within the panoply of rival beliefs and wider cultural scepticism. That’s the game here.

  43. Vaal
    Posted January 4, 2017 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    “Of the God, the necessary Being, the new atheist knows little to nothing. Well, maybe the Christian-, Muslim-, or Hindu-in-the-street knows little of Him either, in the sense of being unable to write down a philosophically consistent definition of just who and what God is. The theologian, however, can,”

    Oh, nice equivocation. First we are told that the God atheists criticize is one “christians” reject.

    But then out of the other corner of his mouth, Briggs admits, well yes actually the “Christian on the street” – that is the vast majority of Christians! – understand God in the way Atheists criticize.

    We notice when you do this, Mr. Briggs.

    Apparently now only the tiny minority of Christian known as “theologians” believe in a God different from the God atheists criticize.

    Hmmm…the barrel is getting smaller.

    Now about those theologians: do any of them belong to churches? What do the churches say about God? Any doctrinal statements? Catechisms etc? Oh..yes..there are? Ones that tell us about Jesus? And Mary, etc? Dogmas that portray God as pretty much just the personal, anthropomorphized type of God atheists criticize? This is the God these theologians worship in church when atheists aren’t looking?

    Who would have thought?…the more you look, the more elusive that population of Christians who believe in a God untouched by atheist critiques seems to become.

    • reasonshark
      Posted January 5, 2017 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Not to forget that, even taken at their word, theologians can’t come up with ideas any less silly or time-wasting. The “Ground of Being” type of god is as nonsensical and pointless as the interventionist gods of common belief.

      For theologians, the phrase “ivory tower” could’ve been specially invented.

  44. Posted January 4, 2017 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    “So that if the average church or temple goer has a definition of God that suffers certain inconsistencies, therefore God doesn’t exist. If you accept that then you’d have to believe that since the average citizen has mistaken ideas about evolution (holding to Intelligent Design, say), therefore evolution is false. Truth is not a vote.”
    Is same as the philosophy, that if I can imagine any perfect thing in my mind that should somehow exist in the real world and must be even more perfect.

    • reasonshark
      Posted January 5, 2017 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Of course, there is such a thing as correcting people on the subject of evolution. On the subject of gods, the only option is to trade one silly idea for another. Well, the only option other than recognizing the field for what it is and walking away from it.

  45. chrism
    Posted January 4, 2017 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    I feel a certain temptation to giggle at the concept of a statistician believing in god. Perhaps the real Coyne Fallacy should be the argument that an expert in a particular field is incapable of having blind spots that prevent him from applying his own expertise to his own beliefs.

  46. chris moffatt
    Posted January 4, 2017 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    “This fallacy is used to reject a proposition because most people misunderstand or hold false beliefs about that proposition.”

    Where and when has PCC(E) ever stated such an idea? I think never; which makes the Coyne fallacy a straw man.

  47. J. Quinton
    Posted January 4, 2017 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    “The transcendent God can be “‘investigated’ only, on the one hand, by acts of logical deduction and induction and conjecture or, on the other, by contemplative or sacramental or spiritual experiences.””

    But how does one verify that one’s interpretation of spiritual experiences is correct?

    It’s like these guys have never heard of “naive realism”; it’s why the scientific method works, because you’re the easiest person for you to fool.

    Maybe you should shoot back that this ST is suffering from the Fallacy of Infallible Spiritual Experience.

    • eric
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      But how does one verify that one’s interpretation of spiritual experiences is correct?

      That’s easy. The method is “ask [X] for the correct interpretation” – where [X] is the speaker claiming spiritual experiences work.

      Yeah of course you run into a problem if you consider different X’s. But the speakers rarely consider that an issue, in their minds any X that disagrees with them is self-obviously wrong.

    • jeremy pereira
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I have to say that the quote you give shows Briggs to be ignorant about the very words he uses.

      Deduction by itself cannot tell you anything new about the World. Deductive proofs will leave you with a statement of the form “If A then B” where A is a set of premises which are either just assumed to be true (mathematics) or have been observed to be true in our experience (science). Assumptions are guesses that could turn out to be wrong. Observations take us to induction.

      Inductive reasoning is making probabilistic statements based on observations. Every sheep I’ve ever seen has been white, therefore the next sheep I see will probably be white too. It is induction that gives science the power to describe the real world. However, a transcendent god that is immune to observation is immune to induction.

      Conjecture is just a weak form of induction.

      Contemplative or sacramental or spiritual experiences are interesting because they imply a change in a person’s mind state. That, to me, suggests that the state of the brain changes in some way and if it was due to a god, that change would apparently violate the laws of physics. On the macro scale, it would be an effect with no detectable cause. Any god that influences the Universe is therefore, in principle, amenable to observation. Any god that doesn’t is an irrelevance.

  48. Bruce Lyon
    Posted January 4, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Following up on the information Ed Kroc dug up above, this clown has also written several articles for Breitbart News whose titles suggest he might be a climate change denier too. An idiot on many fronts.

  49. jeremy pereira
    Posted January 4, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I have just read the article (well I skimmed it) and the comments. I definitely recommend reading the comments, Briggs gets intellectually eviscerated in some of them. This is one of my favourite bits

    Next, I never believe what someone tells me my own “philosophy” might “boil down to”. Even I’m not sure what my philosophy might “boil down to”, so how on earth would your guest author know what my (or any other) philosophy might boil down to?

    Next, he has not identified even a single one of the “philosophies” he is referring to. We have no idea of the subject he’s declaiming against.

    Next, we haven’t seen him boil even one of the philosophies down. So we have no idea of whatever his boiling process might entail.

    — Willis Eschenbach

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 5, 2017 at 12:32 am | Permalink

      Some of the comments are indeed entertaining. I liked the very first, by Luis Dias. Including: “I’d rather have my Lovecraftian horror stories than reading this buffoon masquerading as someone smart and sophisticated.”

      cr

  50. Posted January 4, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    The Coyne Fallacy is the belief that cats are inherently superior to dogs.

    Brigss version has layers of illogic to it. Discounting the existence of something because of ‘false beliefs’ about it begs the question. It assumes the thing is real so there can be both true and false beliefs about it. But atheists obviously don’t believe in God so there can’t be false beliefs about him, other than that he exists at all.

    On the other hand, when diverse groups of people come to mutually incompatible ideas about God, all without evidence and based solely on imagination, that IS evidence against him.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      The Coyne Fallacy is the belief that cats are inherently superior to dogs.

      I’m not sure I understand. A true statement can’t be a fallacy, can it?

    • jeremy pereira
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      “Lord Voldemort is a woman” is a false belief about something that is not real.

      • reasonshark
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        Interesting counter, but I think fictional canonicity is a case of subjective consent rather than objective documentation in the way, say, a historical account would be. Unlike real-world claims about what actually happened, fictional stories are a convoluted game of pretend.

        Games of pretend are contingent on what the participants say, not on objective reality. The participants agree ahead of time to follow the rules of the game, but it is entirely conditional on their doing so.

        They’re not bound to accept it. Not if they don’t want to. If someone goes off and writes a story in which Lord Voldemort is a woman, then they’re not obviously wrong to do so. They could simply be writing an alternate universe fanfic that’s clearly signalled as such.

        Of course, if they say “Voldemort is a woman” with the implication being that Rowling describes him as such, that’s contradicting what Rowling actually said. But then it seems we’re on the subject of what people say is X, not really of what X actually is, since X doesn’t actually exist.

        The problem with religious claims is that they’re not content to be filed under fiction. Religion’s a game of pretend involving way too many people who can’t tell reality from fantasy.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 6, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          Reasonshark can find support for the argument in the example of Sherlock Holmes. If you had asked my dad before he died to describe Sherlock Holmes you would have gotten a pretty good description of a guy with a deer slayer cap who solved mysteries around the turn of the 20th Century.

          If you ask my daughter the same question you’d get a very different description of the character, based on Benedict Cumberband’s representation of a guy with near superpowers in the 21st Century.

          I can easily imagine a female Lord Voldemort in some movie 50 years from now.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

            Yes. ‘Lord Voldemort is a woman’ is almost in the ‘not even wrong’ category.

            There are evidently varying categories of incorrectness. Any statement about Lord Voldemort must be inherently untrue* (in the most literal sense) since Lord Voldemort is fictitious. But obviously some statements are untrue-er than others.

            (*Other than ‘Lord Voldemort is fictitious’, obviously).

            Of course Holmes, like Hercules and Superman, has had many incarnations so any set of ‘facts’ about him must be related to a particular instantiation. A bit like Jesus, come to think of it.

            cr

          • jeremy pereira
            Posted January 9, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

            We can certainly make true and false statements about all the different incarnations of Sherlock Holmes. For instance, “Doyle’s version of Holmes is a man”. Yes, we sometimes have to qualify which version of Holmes we are talking about, but they are all still fictional and for any particular version, we can say true and false things about them.

            The deer stalker hat thing is interesting because, as any true Holmes fan will tell you, it is a myth. You can point to public popular perception as much as you like but the fan can show you all of the original texts of the stories where Holmes is not once portrayed wearing a deer stalker.

            However, if a large contingent from the Church of Elementarians were demanding that we all go around in deerstalkers and smoking a pipe, we would all probably start pointing out that this would be silly because Holmes is fictional. A small group of Sherlogians counter claiming “that is not the real Holmes, not the one I believe in” is totally irrelevant even if it turned out that Doyle’s Holmes was a real person.

            We don’t argue against God because he/she/it is fictional but because the consequences of believing in he/she/it seem to be mostly pretty negative. That is why it is important to argue against the god that people believe in and not the one that theologians have made up to fit in the ever decreasing gaps.

            • reasonshark
              Posted January 10, 2017 at 3:49 am | Permalink

              That fits into my point anyway: Doyle’s “version” is basically what Doyle says is the rule for representing Sherlock, and rules can be obeyed or disobeyed. It’s true that Doyle depicts him without a deerstalker, but since the detective doesn’t exist anyway, everyone else is capable of creating their own version in ignorance of or even in defiance of what Doyle said. I’m not joking when I say it’s a game of pretend.

              That’s why I think it more accurate to say “X believes Y has Z” rather than “Y has Z”, because true-and-false statements rely on the subject actually existing. We know the writers and the speakers exist, and we know just as well that what they’re writing and speaking about does not.

              As for your last paragraph, I hope I’m not judged as rude when I say: speak for yourself. Gods being fictional is the single reason why I oppose god-belief, not some fallacious appeal to consequences. I’d argue against theism even if it turned out to be some kind of ultimate Prozac, because the consequences of a belief have no bearing on its veracity (only its desirability).

              • jeremy pereira
                Posted January 10, 2017 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                That fits into my point anyway: Doyle’s “version” is basically what Doyle says is the rule for representing Sherlock, and rules can be obeyed or disobeyed. It’s true that Doyle depicts him without a deerstalker, but since the detective doesn’t exist anyway, everyone else is capable of creating their own version in ignorance of or even in defiance of what Doyle said.

                This is true, but Doyle’s Sherlock is just as fictional as the entire category of versions of Sherlock and yet I can make true or false statements about him.

                Gods being fictional is the single reason why I oppose god-belief

                I oppose god belief because of the consequences. If god belief has no consequences or even if the only consequence was “it gets people through the day” I wouldn’t bother. I don’t think many other people would either. I think it’s no coincidence that you don’t see sceptical web sites full of anti-pagan god or anti-Jedi force argument. I think it’s because the consequences of these beliefs are virtually zero in our society. The Christian god is a problem because his believers keep telling us who we are allowed to have sex with, what science we should accept, when we are allowed to go shopping and so on.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 10, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                I agree with jeremy there, re reasons for opposing god-belief.

                The same pragmatic reasons apply for opposing different forms of woo. I would strongly oppose the anti-vaxxers and the homeopaths, the tinfoil-hat ‘aliens are beaming thoughts into my brain’ and the dabblers in astrology are generally pretty harmless and can be ignored.

                cr

  51. jaxkayaker
    Posted January 8, 2017 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Why am I not surprised that someone with such poor reasoning skills gets Jerry’s actual arguments completely wrong?


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