More emails from readers who question my philosophical cred

Emails from strangers about my science-versus-religion piece in The Conversation continue to pollute my inbox. I’ve put one more below.

How much do you have to study religion before you can say that Abrahamic religions are a.) often based on assertions about what exists and what is real and b.) adjudicate their truth statements in a manner completely different from how science decides what is (provisional) truth? Just look how many Americans believe in Heaven and Hell, and the evidence for that, versus why scientists accept the existence of viruses and bacteria, and the evidence for that. It’s a no-brainer.

I’d say that a moderate knowledge of religion and of religious people would suffice, but people like the one below, who sent me a petulant email, think that years of study are required to claim the two assertions above. This person, who apparently lives in Utah (a Mormon?) is wrong.  But here’s the email I got at 3:30 this morning (I have an early flight.) This person’s email is indented; my comments are flush left.

Hi Jerry,

I read your op-ed in the 12-27-2018 edition of the Logan Herald-Journal  

https://www.hjnews.com/eedition/

Not having heard of you until now, I checked out your bio at Wikipedia.org. There you’re described as an atheist, a secular Jew, and a metaphysical naturalist. I don’t question your credentials in evolutionary biology. However, please explain why you consider yourself an expert in analytic philosophy and metaphysics? For example, can you explain the difference between atheism-theism-agnosticism on the one hand and theological noncognitivism on the other? If theism is not false but empirically meaningless, then why wouldn’t atheism and agnosticism likewise be meaningless (i.e., neither empirically true nor false)?

This is the hurdle one must leap, apparently, to be able to write a popular essay on science versus religion. But I wonder if this guy knows as much about evolutionary biology as I do about theology and religion? Has he read On The Origin of Species? Where is HIS expertise. The fact is, though, that it doesn’t take years of study to make the points I did in my article.

As for theism being “empirically meaningless”, I never said it was, for there is potential evidence for assertions about God. It’s just that we haven’t seen any. In contrast, there is evidence for accepted truths in science. Atheism, the simple rejection of belief in gods, is based on the absence of evidence for gods, not the “empirical meaninglessness” of religion. This guy hasn’t read enough about atheism!

He goes on:

Your bio includes a quote by you taken from The New Republic in which you claim that “all scientific progress requires a climate of strong skepticism.” [My italics] Besides reading your above op-ed, I also viewed one of your lectures on YouTube. Both lead me to doubt your understanding of philosophical skepticism. Therefore, I suggest you read the following article by Keith Lehrer, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. He’s clearly an expert on what it means to be epistemically dogmatic:

See “Why Not Scepticism?” Philosophical Forum, vol. II, (1971), 283-298.

(According to the author’s bio, this article is required reading in undergraduate courses on cognitive theory.)

Best wishes,
NAME REDACTED

Well, if I’ve made some major error about religion or philosophy, this person should tell me what it is. They never do (or when they do they’re wrong), but rather they almost always refer me to one or another article to read in the endless rabbit-hole that is academic philosophy and theology.

I stand by what I wrote.

99 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    There’s something about the credentials game here I can’t put a finger on.

    If someone doesn’t get something in science, they can ask a scientist to help them. They should be set straight eventually- for their own benefit. It’s really independent of the papers anyone has, but the canvassing will reveal some are less obtuse or nebulous than others.

    It’s different here – if something is genuinely obtuse, nebulous, obscure, unclear, one would expect an intelligent acknowledgement of the fact. Do we ever see that with Soohisticated Theologians (T.M.)?

    And what does that have to do with someone’s degrees?

    Confusing.

    • Posted December 29, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Sophisticated Theologians do have their terms. “Theological noncognitivism”?

      But maybe there is an issue here. Dr. Coyne is right: What exists/what is real?; and How do we know it?
      I will ask of the professor, Do “persons” exist? This is not a term found in the lit of biology, to my knowledge.

      This term is found in the lit of philosophy. There are theists out there who don’t believe in heaven or hell, but do believe that there is A Limit to Scientific Knowledge. Even non-theists can believe in that, and reputable ones to boot.

      Right now, “persons” exist in between the terms and methods used in sci and religion.
      There is a war between them but neither has won! The no-man’s-land in between needs a story, needs description.

      As a scientist and blogger, Dr. Coyne ACTS in “the logical space of reasons”; maybe he is ’caused’ to write and believe what he does, but then so are Soph.Theo’s.
      The actions and reasons of persons is somehow one step ahead of our scientific reduction of them. I’m hoping in the end this is what Coyne and our SophTheist will come to believe. Its the middle ground.
      see naturereligionconnection.org for more reasons.

      • GBJames
        Posted December 29, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        There may very well be limits to what we can discover/know scientifically. This in no way supports that idea that there is some other way to discover/know anything.

        • Posted December 30, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          Mother Nature herself discovered us, humans, persons. We are just doing what we do, One Part of which is analyze things, but that is not the total. The other part is we ACT as we are designed to act. I guess it is philosophical reflection that helps us Know the limits of analysis. Kant contended there was theoretical And practical reason. Good response, though.

          • GBJames
            Posted December 30, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            I don’t see how philosophical reflection helps us know anything. If there are limits we will likely never know what they are. The best we can know is that there are things we don’t know now. Philosophical reflection can, at best, allow us to come up with answerable questions.

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted December 30, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

              “I don’t see how philosophical reflection helps us know anything. ”

              Me neither.

              We could talk about proofs of the Pythagorean theorem, and at some point there could be a question (for example) “how do we know this is a square”, and there’s clear cut reasoning to bring everyone in the same page. A mathematician _could_ respond with questions like “well, how do we know a line is really a line”, or “how do we know a right triangle is really 90 degrees”. The point is there are reasons mathematicians don’t pursue infinitely regressing questions when the objective is knowing why the Pythagorean theorem is always true. Parsimony would be one of them.

              Not sure how that relates to philosophical reflection, it’s only to illustrate a scenario where we are required to know relationships, because if we don’t, the results are obviously a complete mess.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 29, 2018 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        Naturalism assumes there is a natural world we can investigate. Solipsism is a rabbit hole. There’s not much I can think of between these poles.

        • Posted December 30, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          I don’t get your dichotomy. Humans have refined the way we ACT, the rules of such behavior, constantly through history. Will science itself discover the mechanism by which we behave as scientists? Maybe, but right now what we do is Describe It in philosophically reflective discussions. After all, that is what Coyne does when he rightfully scolds Believers for ignoring evidence and logic. I’m a naturalist, but its trickier thing to be than many realize.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 30, 2018 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

            Your approach is pretty obscure to me. Why do use scare quotes around the word “persons”. Are you intimating a “soul”? Are you a mind–body dualist?

            • Posted January 2, 2019 at 10:17 am | Permalink

              “Why do use scare quotes around the word ‘persons’.”

              Because what branch of science acknowledges ‘person’ as an existing object? I guess psychology, but then shouldn’t we reduce psych to chemistry or biology? No ‘person’ objects in those fields. Coyne says Sci tells us what is real, and I largely agree, but maybe it’s analytic method — always chopping down into pieces — misses the whole things (like persons and other complexities) that it starts out with and that we all operate from daily. No “souls”, just “manifest images” and highly “intentional systems” that philosopher’s (oops, bad word!) like Sellars and Dennett worry about.

              • rickflick
                Posted January 2, 2019 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                I think the key to understanding what a ,i>person is has to do with emergence. Once a system becomes complex enough it begins to exhibit emergent behavior not evident in the components. If you want to confuse the issue try to treat and speak about emergent properties as if they are mysterious. The language we use for rudimentary components of the natural world, like atoms, is different from the language appropriate for emergent systems. Atoms do not want to move, but humans want to attend a Shakespeare play. I think the issue you are promoting places you as a “mysterian”. A view that emergent systems are beyond clear explanation.

              • Posted January 2, 2019 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

                I agree with rickflick. I don’t think we should reduce psychology to chemistry or biology any more than we should reduce, say, plumbing to physics and chemistry: a pipe is still a pipe (whatever René Magritte might have to say about that).

                Science gives us multiple, overlapping models and, while more granular models can inform less granular models, we choose the model that gives us the best explanation or description according to the scale of the subject.

                Newtonian gravity is an incomplete model cf. general relativity (Einsteinian gravity), but it’s good enough for most quotidian purposes (GPS being the notable exception) and more besides. I doubt that NASA used general relativity to plot New Horizon’s course to Ultima Thule (astrophysicists, tell me if I’m wrong!), but still managed to get it within 3,500 km after a journey of about 6½ billion km.

                Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture discusses this idea rather well. It’s worth reading. (For many other reasons too!)

                /@

              • rickflick
                Posted January 2, 2019 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

                I once asked NASA via a teachers link whether relativity is calculated into space navigation. They said yes it is. Even with that, they often do correction maneuvers along the way as is the case with New Horizons.

              • Posted January 2, 2019 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

                I believe correction maneuvers are needed because of the imprecision of thrust, positions and density distribution of sources of gravitation. Still a lot of variables.

  2. GBJames
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    To quote myself, sigh.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      To quote GBJames, sigh.

      • Posted December 28, 2018 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        sigh

        -GBJames

        -rickflick

        -Ryan

        • Roger
          Posted December 29, 2018 at 12:59 am | Permalink

          “Sigh.”

          NAMES REDACTED

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    That is the lamest kind of response to get and it deserves nothing. If all you have is recommendation to read someone else and no opinion or argument of your own, please go away.

  4. Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    When someone says ‘I believe in Jesus’ does this writer ask *them* what kind of qualifications they have, upon which they can base this belief?

    • A C Harper
      Posted December 29, 2018 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      Similarly if someone says they believe in Heaven (or Hell) ask them what Heaven is like. Almost no-one has any idea beyond a few banalities ‘sitting in God’s glory’ etc. But what is it *like*.

      And as for Hell being eternal torture… really?

      How do they know these things, and so poorly?

      • Bob
        Posted December 29, 2018 at 8:00 am | Permalink

        “I’m with Christopher Hitchens on this one. Heaven sounds like North Korea — an eternity of mindless conformity spent singing the praises of a powerful tyrant.”
        ― Greta Christina, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God

  5. Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Echoing the recent mentions here of “tone-deaf”, it applies to the writer of this email. Their message is essentially:

    “You aren’t as smart as you think you are. Here, read this: .”

    It’s amazing that they think this is a productive way to pursue an argument.

    • Posted December 28, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      ‘You aren’t as smart as me, and never will be’
      FTFY

      • Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Right, that’s an alternative form. I almost wrote that too.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    If all I had to do with term paper assignments was to complete the foot notes, it would have gone much faster.

  7. Martin X
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Typo: “I ever said it was”

  8. Joe
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Good for you, Dr. Coyne!

    Remember Vinegar Joe Stillwell’s dictum. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

  9. Posted December 28, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Question authority! Especially authority that can’t make clear their arguments or evidence (forget that in the case of theology) to an intelligent and interested person. That is why WEIT is so great. I don’t have to accept PCC’s credentials to see why the evidence for evolution is so convincing. PCC laid it on the table for me to see and evaluate for myself.

    • Nell Whiteside
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Perhaps the writer of the e-mail should be directed to this website – where he might actually learn something!

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I like the view that science is (or at least strives to be) a meritocracy. It is certainly not a democracy; nor is it well described as an autocracy.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    *Sigh*
    Why track down a decades old paper, which does not seem to be available online (I checked), to relearn what is already enrolled into the scientific process?
    You might as well also be admonished, with a bit of tut-tuttery, that you need to bone up on philosophical naturalism. Or search your shelves for your old copy of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn which you still have from your undergrad days. Surely their may be some nuance in there that you overlooked as you conclude that… let’s see here… could it be? Maybe? That…
    their is no evidence for god.

  11. Andy Lowry
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Although I am not an electrician, I think I’m entitled to my dislike of being shocked. Perhaps I need to upgrade my credentials before expressing any opinions about it.

  12. Posted December 28, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    You are wrong, Jerry 😀 on this part (most atheists are, including most atheist YouTubers, e.g. Noel Plum, or PZ Myers etc)

    As for theism being “empirically meaningless”, I ever said it was, for there is potential evidence for assertions about God. It’s just that we haven’t seen any.

    “Atheism” may be the name for a view where one remains unconvinced by theological assertions. You can define it that way, as most atheists do. But it leads to the distortion that atheists believe in nothing, or worse, that there wasn’t an alternative. Or, as PZ Myers wants it, that the god-shaped hole ought to be filled with something else (to him, that’s wokeness, in contrast to “dictionary atheism”).

    But that view doesn’t glue with reality.

    God is not merely a part that can be added (or removed) from reality without serious implications. You can conceive of a universe that has a star more or less, or perhaps even entire galaxies. But a universe created by a god, as conceived by abrahamitic faiths, who cares about humans — now that would be a radically different universe!

    Once they remove the god from their beliefs, a lot of atheists resolve conflict with naturalism, whether they say it, or not. They do not really are “unconvinced”. They are instead convinced by explanations that fit knowledge. Since you say that many believers compartmentalise anyway, it means that once they turn atheistic, the “other half” can now take over, and resolve open questions.

    The result is that there is not merely no evidence for “souls”, but we know exactly what people thought souls were, and we know exactly that they don’t exist. We know from alzheimers and dementia, accidents to part of the brain, etc. that psyche, personality, and mental states are product of the brain and nervous system, to give one example.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      The extension that ‘atheists believe in nothing’ is something that other people apply to atheists. I don’t think they would describe themselves that way.
      But I do very much like the point that a universe with some sort of omnipotent and influential god would be a very different one. One could argue for a totally-hands-off kind of god; one who set things in motion 13.8 billion years ago and then stood back. But that is not the kind of god that people argue for.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted December 28, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        “The extension that ‘atheists believe in nothing’ is something that other people apply to atheists.”

        Part of an old adage is, “ you can’t get out of the game” – i imagine that victims of religion see atheism as a chopping off, or possibly a scooping out, of the god-shaped hole – a ditching of any responsibility for all that good stuff we should all care about.

        But I don’t think that’s enough- you still have to _work_ at something. It’s a question of what you’re working at, and how. You can’t get out of the game.

        • Serendipitydawg
          Posted December 28, 2018 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

          There isn’t a god-shaped hole, in the same way that there isn’t a unicorn-shaped hole for us a-unicornists. The religious assume we lack something that they have; I guess it makes them able to regard us as living in a yawning chasm of suicidal nihlism.

          Whatever gets them through their day.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted December 28, 2018 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

            “There isn’t a god-shaped hole, ”

            There will be for victims of religion. They had to WORK that stuff in.

            • Serendipitydawg
              Posted December 28, 2018 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

              Kind of my point; they naturally assume we have a god-shaped gap in our lives where no such gap exists.

              I feel sorry for them, it is much better to be unencumbered.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 28, 2018 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

            You and I may not have a god-shaped hole, but it seems to me there may be something of the sort inherent in human nature. The religious segment of the population may just be it’s clearest manifestation. Basically, it’s a yearning for direction given from authority that absolves the individual from the ambiguities of life. It could be some folks find life harder than others and feel the need for some support any way they can get it.

            • Posted December 29, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

              Maybe its more a “person” shaped hole, or even a “free will” shaped hole!

              There is an issue here. Dr. Coyne is right: What exists/what is real?; and How do we know it?
              I will ask of the professor, Do “persons” exist? This is not a term found in the lit of biology, to my knowledge.

              This term is found in the lit of philosophy. There are theists out there who don’t believe in heaven or hell, but do believe that there is A Limit to Scientific Knowledge. Even non-theists can believe in that, and reputable ones to boot.

              Right now, “persons” exist in between the terms and methods used in sci and religion.
              There is a war between them but neither has won! The no-man’s-land in between needs a story, needs description. Maybe you think psychology can fill it?

              As a scientist and blogger, Dr. Coyne ACTS in “the logical space of reasons”; maybe he is ’caused’ to write and believe what he does, but then so are Soph.Theo’s.
              The actions and reasons of persons is somehow one step ahead of our scientific reduction of them. I’m hoping in the end this is what Coyne and our SophTheist will come to believe. Its the middle ground.

              see naturereligionconnection.org for more reasons.

              • Posted December 29, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

                “A Limit to Scientific Knowledge” seems like a somewhat dishonest way to claim that supernatural entities or forces exist outside of nature. The phrase allows people to mistake it for the claim that scientific knowledge is not complete now or never will be complete. The former is obviously true and the latter is impossible to prove. Anyone claiming that there are things outside of nature, things science doesn’t even attempt to discover, must first show that such things exist which, of course, is impossible.

              • rickflick
                Posted December 29, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

                …and honesty is our policy.

              • Posted December 29, 2018 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

                Careful, Greg. Posting the same comment multiple times might be seen as a violation of the Roolz.

                /@

              • Posted December 30, 2018 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, Ant, wasn’t aware of Roolz. Makes sense. It did change a little, and it seemed pertinent again.

                As to being “dishonest”, Paul, I’m just not a big fan of all-encompassing Analysis. Mother Nature made us and we act as we are designed. We analyze those acts and other Complexities in Nature as best we can, but we are certainly several steps behind and maybe always will be.
                For example, when Coyne rightfully scolds Believers for not being reasonable, not regarding evidence or acceptable standards of proof, that isn’t science, its philosophical reflection on how we should act. Philosophical reflection can be a source of wisdom/knowledge(?) beyond science, and its not Supernatural.

      • Posted December 29, 2018 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        I regard it as a “distortion”, in part coming about from the impression that atheists merely remove something from their views. But that’s not how (I think) it is:

        When you stop believing in Santa Claus, your heart isn’t torn open and replaced with an abyssal maw that eats your happiness in life.

        Instead, the very moment you ponder the question how the gifts got under the tree, you’ll have a new idea: Now it’s your family that put them there. The new idea will fit your available knowledge, and if you don’t know something, it can make you learn and increase your knowledge.

    • A C Harper
      Posted December 29, 2018 at 3:54 am | Permalink

      Putting on my argumentative hat… if some people honestly believe in god as the most important thing in their lives then anyone who differs must be deficient in some way, must struggle with meaningless feelings. And meaningless feelings are abhorrent.

      Which is why atheists, existentialists, indifferentists, agnostics, and people driven by political ideologies are all imagined to be consumed by meaninglessness which must result in bad behaviour.

      Meanwhile the Emperor has no clothes…

    • Posted December 29, 2018 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure I quite understand what you think Jerry is wrong about in that quotation.

      In any case, I’m doubtful that the majority of atheists accept naturalism. There are many that indulge in other kinds of woo.

      /@

  13. Posted December 28, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Most of the pushback to the article seems to be coming from Lyotardian postmodernist philosophers, relativists who reject the existence of objective reality altogether.

    I’d love to ask one of them how come, if there are no known truths, their cow-patty-littered field trumps all others, including Science.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      I’m subscribed to the comments on the article, and from what I can tell, when not whining vaguely about Jerry’s definitions being wrongedy wrong wrong, most of the pushback seems to be coming from

      1.) people arguing that all beliefs rest on faith
      2.) people arguing that religion is outside of science because it’s not based on empiricism
      3.) people arguing that the evidence clearly points to religion being true

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted December 28, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        “1.) people arguing that all beliefs rest on faith”

        I see confusion between faith and expected outcomes. I’ll add that there is a lot of argumentation from “lived experience”, or “in the moment” like David Maness’ recently highlighted piece. I’d like to take these two subjects for the following:

        I take for an inaccurate example cooking something in an oven then going out for a few hours for the following:

        Setting up some complex system that one walks away from so it is out of sight and out of mind, with an intention of getting an expected outcome, does not at all mean faith is used in any way in the setup. At best, there is near-automatic deliberation in the setup process, based on trusting the equipment. One returns to their e.g. oven, gets the cooked loaf of bread, and all is well. If not, an examination of each step and piece of equipment should turn up an explanation, etc. no faith required. Things really can operate (or fail) independently from human beings.

        (I apologize if this is in FvF, I’ll have to go to the library soon).

        • Sastra
          Posted December 29, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          If trusting that one’s oven will cook one’s bread were a *religious* faith, then coming home to cold dough would mean nothing — the bread DID bake. In fact, having the appearance of being unbaked is exactly what one would expect of baked bread.
          The New Atheists just get that so wrong.

          • Posted December 29, 2018 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

            😆

            • Posted January 2, 2019 at 10:55 am | Permalink

              Boy, no sympathy for religious belief what so ever on this site!
              I think that many sincere religious persons have CONFUSED their sense of Being a Part of Something Larger, for “God”, the intuitive and mythologized awareness of that reality. Dennett has 3 such kinds of ‘Largers’. One, the physical world of physics and chemistry working as one huge object; Two, the existence of Designed Things (biological objects and human artifacts; Three, Intentional Objects: like persons who exist only based upon the previous two, and then with a bunch of worked-out social presuppositions in addition.

              Any way, our world of everyday life depends on our belief in a whole bunch of whole and independent things —-designed and intentional. Its how scientists ACT when DOING science and NOT how The World of Sci Objects BEHAVES that scientists come to believe in.

              i.e. Religion as way of knowing things is NOT acceptable anymore, But there is great tension between ACTIONS (persons using reasons, language, responsibility, evidence, debate…) and CAUSED EVENTS OF SCI.

              Please, someone acknowledge that the world of sci objects is really different form where we start out AND that this diff may have a little truth to it and not be all just stupidity!!!

              sorry for raining on your sci parade!

              • Posted January 2, 2019 at 11:06 am | Permalink

                “Please, someone acknowledge that the world of sci objects is really different form where we start out AND that this diff may have a little truth to it and not be all just stupidity!!!”

                I will admit to having trouble understanding this sentence but here’s what I get from it. It is a religious person (or one that sympathizes with religion) begging scientists to admit that their beliefs are just as faith-based as those of religious believers. Hogwash! No matter how many times people say that, it is simply not true. In order to make it true, you have to weaken the definition of “faith” to the point where it applies to every thought we hold in our heads.

              • GBJames
                Posted January 2, 2019 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                “Boy, no sympathy for religious belief what so ever on this site!”

                Nope. But you will find plenty of sympathy for the victims of religious belief.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted January 2, 2019 at 11:20 am | Permalink

                Well put.

              • Posted January 2, 2019 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think you’re raining on our “sci parade”. It’s more like you’re creating an impenetrable fog.

                What is “the world of sci[ence] objects”?

                What do you mean by “where we start out”?

                What do you see as the difference between them?

                /@

  14. Liz
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    “Philosophical skepticism (UK spelling: scepticism; from Greek σκέψις skepsis, “inquiry”) is a philosophical school of thought that questions the possibility of certainty in knowledge.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_skepticism

    “Theological noncognitivism is the position that religious language – specifically, words such as “God” – are not cognitively meaningful. It is sometimes considered synonymous with ignosticism.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theological_noncognitivism

    “Ignosticism or igtheism is the idea that the question of the existence of God is meaningless because the term god has no coherent and unambiguous definition.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

    I looked up these definitions but I couldn’t find the article suggested.

    “’The conflict between science and faith, then, rests on the methods they use to decide what is true, and what truths result: These are conflicts of both methodology and outcome.’” This is very important to me. I’m so grateful to have come across this. The second and third definitions above are interesting. It seems that it would be better to define the ways people perceive god rather than dismiss it as “meaningless” just because it is ambiguous.

    • eric
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for looking those up.

      It seems to me that the first supports JAC’s comment that science requires skepticism; most scientists understand and accept that conclusions based on empirical observation + induction are provisional.

      The second and third seem to me to be irrelevant, as JAC’s point is that religious methods for reaching conclusions are incompatible with the scientific method. And this point can be true regardless of whether God exists or not, and regardless of even whether the term ‘God’ is well defined.

  15. Scott
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Jerry wrote: “Atheism, the simple rejection of belief in gods, is based on the absence of evidence for gods, not the “empirical meaninglessness” of religion.”

    I take it even further when I explain to people why I believe the way I do: I explain the idea of gods makes no logical sense at all. We live in a universe that doesn’t need gods, so why have them? Also, if gods or a single god existed, why play the faith game?? Why allow for people to have different beliefs based on where they’re born?? If a god needs worship, why not have hir face on the moon looking down upon us daily as a constant reminder, and a symbol to worship.

    And there are many other illogical issues with the idea of supernatural beings.

    I find that for reasonable people, this adds a lot of weight above and beyond the fact that there’s no evidence.

    • XCellKen
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      To answer your question, because faces on burnt toast are much closer than the Moon

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 29, 2018 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      ‘Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.”
      Pierre-Simon Laplace, when asked by Napoleon where God’s place was in his probability theory.
      In my modest opinion one of the greatest rebuttals ever.

  16. Logan Moss
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    No matter how theologians seek to dress their discipline in the trappings of academic philosophy, it is and always will be no more than a study of the thoughts and intentions of an imaginary being.

  17. Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Here is a quote relating to accommodationism that has long puzzled me.

    “Science is a differential equation. Religion is a boundary condition.”

    Had it not be written by the brilliant and fiercely anti-religion Alan Turing, I wouldn’t waste my time pondering it. I understand you need a boundary condition to get a particular solution to a differental equation, but what has that to do with religion? Maybe Turing meant God as a first mover or something. Unfortunately, he never explained himself.

    • Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      I suspect there are better explanations online but here’s my take. A differential equation represents dynamism and possibilities, whereas a boundary condition locks everything down. Science’s truth evolves but religion delivers an unchanging and unquestioned truth.

      • Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        That is a great take, better than any I’ve seen online. I’ve always interpreted it as a math thing. You need a boundary condition to get a particular solution to any d.e., so similarly you need religion as well as science. I find it hard to believe Turing would think that, so I like your interpretation.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      I think he meant that you can have lots of boundary conditions, and no one of them is the right one, they are each special cases of the differential equation. The equation itself captures the underlying essence or truth of the matter.

  18. Paul Dymnicki
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Professor Stephen Hawking was correct when he said that philosophy is dead.

    • Posted December 28, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Philosophy is not dead. In fact, one branch – natural philosophy – is spectacularly successful.

      • prinzler
        Posted December 28, 2018 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        To paraphrase Frank Zappa, philosophy isn’t dead, it just smells funny.

    • alexander
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      When I was a student at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, you couldn’t get a degree in philosophy without first getting a science degree. Utrecht is a state university, but they have also a theology department, and I don’t think a science degree was required to graduate in theology. I guess the number of theology graduates would be quite low if a science degree were required.

      • eric
        Posted December 28, 2018 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        Wow interesting. AFAIK this is not at all the case in most US universities.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted December 29, 2018 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        That actually is a brilliant idea: before studying an ‘XXX- study’ a serious science degree required. Those ‘Utrechtians’ are genius!

    • Posted December 28, 2018 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      There is some philosophy that is worthwhile. Philosophy of physics for example looks legit. Philosophy of mind, on the other hand, is a fantastic demonstration of what happens when you don’t know enough science. Dualism and panpsychism especially.

      -Ryan

      • Posted December 29, 2018 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        Daniel Dennett might disagree with you.

        /@

        • Posted December 30, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

          Philosophy is not dead!!! In fact, Coyne’s initial article on Science and Religion is Philosophy. All these subsequent comments are also Philosophical Reflection on how we Act.
          Daniel Dennett is the most sophisticated Naturalist alive today. And he recently commented that scientists who comment on the nature of science, religion, free will etc. would do ThemSelves a service to look at some of the Philo Liturature. I guess it works both ways.

  19. Neil Wolfe
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    With zero published papers and no degree, the good PCC(E) has exactly the same theological credentials as Jesus.

    • XCellKen
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but twelve year old Jesus sure schooled all of the scholars in that synagogue

  20. Posted December 28, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    As Louis Menand wrote in today’s online New Yorker, inspired by the closing words of Einstein’s so-called God Letter:

    “it doesn’t matter what our religious or our philosophical commitments are. The only thing that matters is how we treat one another. I don’t think it took a genius to figure this out, but it’s nice that one did.”

  21. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    With these religio-philosophical types, the objections always boil down to some variation on the “Courtier’s Reply” (PZ’s one worthwhile contribution to the commonweal).

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 29, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      But the ‘Courtier’s Reply’ is a double edged sword, aren’t we continuously bombarded by ignoramuses that contend that evolution isn’t and can’t be true? Don’t we try to educate them or tell them to get educated?
      I also note it is called ‘Meyer’s Shuffle’ by some.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 29, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        I think there’s a distinction between saying (as we’re wont do) “Jesus, read a basic biology textbook, why dontcha?” and “You can’t possibly understand religious thought unless you’ve read Tertullian in the original Latin regarding Jesus” (as they’re wont to do).

  22. Mehul Shah
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Non-Abrahamic faiths in practice do meet the definition.

    “Social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.”

    Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, etc. believe in and pray to a higher power. Very few are engaged in acquiring ‘self-knowledge’.

  23. Caldwell
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    theological noncognitivism

    Biggus Wordus.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 28, 2018 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Only found in the Biggus Dictus.

  24. Posted December 28, 2018 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    False equivalence between the everyday use of “skepticism” and the philosophical position of “skepticism”. Ironically quite similar to the creationist assertion of “just a theory”.

    What is theological noncognitivism anyway? Does that mean cognition is not required for theology?

    -Ryan

    • Posted December 29, 2018 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      Theological noncognitivism is the position that religious language is itself meaningless, or incoherent. For instance some noncognitivists say that the word “atemporal* or the phrase “apart from time” can have no meaning.

      Noncognitivism seems to me an unnecessary and self defeating position.

  25. Geoff Toscano
    Posted December 29, 2018 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    The reality is that the underlying principles of the philosophy of religion are ones of reason, not education. It may feel insulting to people who have studied theology that a person of science, or most other disciplines involving reasoned logic, are just as capable of delivering a sound opinion on the subject, often more so, but that’s the nature of the beast. I’ll grant that theological study might deliver expertise in ancient history and languages, or archaeology, that require ‘credentials’, but that’s not really ‘philosophy’ of religion.

  26. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 29, 2018 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    “they almost always refer me to one or another article to read in the endless rabbit-hole that is academic philosophy and theology.”

    I always have an epistemological (is that the right word?) problem in denying people who ask me to ‘please read’ their favoured text, with the implication ‘how can you know it’s wrong if you haven’t read it?’. (The first occurrence was an acquaintance at university, begging me to read the bible. I didn’t read it, I just started avoiding him).

    In most cases I have no intention of reading their favoured text, since I usually have good reasons for suspecting it’s bunk and I have more interesting things to do with my time. (Those parts of the Bible that I know, are rubbish, I doubt the rest is any different). My problem arises in intellectually justifying my decision to not read whatever-it-is. “Life’s too short” works for me but obviously not for the earnest zealot bending my ear.

    cr

    • A C Harper
      Posted December 29, 2018 at 4:10 am | Permalink

      Indeed. Have all the people urging you to read one particular article read all the other similar articles? Especially the ones that provide a contrary view?

      If they urge you to read the Bible, have they also read the Koran, or the Bhagavad gita, or the Buddhist sacred texts? Or the Tao Te Ching?

    • Posted December 29, 2018 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      ‘how can you know it’s wrong if you haven’t read it?’.

      My answer to that of late, after having read waaay too much crap that wasted my time is:

      Because if it had this brilliant refutation of my ideas, I wouldn’t be getting a bibliography I’d be getting the refutation.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted December 29, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        Excellent!

  27. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 29, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    An old rule of thumb is :

    “show don’t tell”

    It’s important to remind oneself about it – at any time!

  28. Posted December 29, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Theological noncognitivism says that religion is about attitudes and/or actions, not factual beliefs. Compare sports fans. If a football fan yells “Go Bears!” his utterance is neither true nor false, but it does mean something. According to theological noncognitivism, religion is like rooting for your favorite sports team, in at least this respect: it’s ultimately a matter of preference and practices, not factual beliefs. Even if the Bears fan does have a lot of factual beliefs (about how many touchdowns the Bears’ wide receivers have, etc etc), being a Bears fan is not necessarily conditional on those beliefs.

    (It’s gotta be the Bears because, you know, Chicago.)

    Anyway, the weird thing is, Jerry does have an answer to noncognitivism, even if he doesn’t address it by that name. He argues that religion isn’t just a matter of practices. He argues – he doesn’t just assume – that beliefs are indispensable to religion. Jerry’s critic really should have engaged with those arguments, instead of just naming a philosophical tradition that rejects Jerry’s argument.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 29, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      I understand this

  29. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 2, 2019 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    There’s a metaphor of tthe drunkard stumbling through the dark looking for their keys… actually that’s a terrible idea … we’ll, the idea is the drunkard will find their keys rapidly if they look under the street lamp.

    The metaphor for faith is deliberately going into the dark because they Just Know they’ll find the keys.


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