Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jerry Coyne Attacks Religion Again

Dr. Jerry Coyne, arch-Darwinist and anti-religionist, has written a flaming editorial in USA Today against religion and for the objectivity and rationality of science. I posted a response on his web page to one particularly odd claim he made. Here is my post to his Why Evolution is True Web Page:

Dr. Coyne:

I could not find anywhere else to post this response to your editorial in USA Today. So, I am doing it here. I hope you do not mind.

You say you have never met a Christian who could specify a fact that would make him or her give up their faith. Really? The Apostle Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the death, the Christian faith is false and contemptible (See 1 Corinthians 15:17). I agree. If conclusive arguments could be shown that Christ is dead and buried and that the beliefs of the apostles and the rest of the early church were false, I would give up Christianity. But after studying Christianity in relation to challenges from atheists and other religions, I remain convinced that it is both true and reasonable.

I could say much more about your editorial, but now you have met (at least on line) one Christian who has stipulated a fact, that if shown to be true, would refute his religious convictions.

Sincerely,

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary

16 comments:

Robert Kunda said...

By such comments, one wonders if Dr. Coyne knows many, or even any, Christians by way of actual interaction. Certainly such exist, but what does that show?

I've met atheists that, by their own admission could not be persuaded into theism by any amount of evidence. But you wouldn't catch me writing an OpEd claiming that all atheists are like this. Talking to more than 1 or 2 people one disagrees with helps cure such fictional characterizations.

Robert Kunda said...

By such comments, one wonders if Dr. Coyne knows many, or even any, Christians by way of actual interaction. Certainly such exist, but what does that show?

I've met atheists that, by their own admission could not be persuaded into theism by any amount of evidence. But you wouldn't catch me writing an OpEd claiming that all atheists are like this. Talking to more than 1 or 2 people one disagrees with helps cure such fictional characterizations.

Bill Honsberger said...

The entire article is a virtual treasure chest of bald faced assertions, ad hominums and numerous logical fallacies.
This is fun to use for freshman intro to Phil like I did this morning.
Apparently the U of Chicago brand isn't what it used to be...
Bill

Sirfab said...

Mr. Honsberger, in the interest of clarity, would you please care to point out a few examples of what you consider logical fallacies, ad hominems and bald faced assertions?

Thank you.

Bill Honsberger said...

Dear Sirhab - certainly I will give examples of each.
Logical Fallacies:
1) Begging the question - "recent work on the brain has shown no evidence for souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head". Since by definition the soul or spirit is immaterial - no amount of scanning (research?) will discover it. There is no serious Christian who believes in the soul who thinks it is a material entity - therefore Coyne begs by question by assuming materialism and then "showing" materialism to have declined to find the "evidence". You certainly can disagree with the idea of a soul, but starting with materialistic presuppositions is literally assuring the end results.
2) ad hominems: "But the existence of religious scientists, or religious people who accept science, doesn't prove that the two areas are incompatible. It shows only that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time" This is mere academic speak for "moron". Any one who studies philosophy at all learns how you successfully brand your opponent without the clumsy name calling of, say someone like Hume. This is what makes Dawkins so silly, in that even other famous atheists (Ruse and others) are embarrassed by him, is that his stridency and name calling is more in tune with college sophomores than more seasoned academics. (and as Notre Dame philosopher Plantinga noted - to call Dawkins sophmoric is an insult to sophomores!) Doug's second post on this shows the true nature of Coynes insult - Bad thinkers hold to contradictory thoughts - but as Doug shows (eg Kepler, Farraday, Galileo) I will gladly up the ante with Newton, Bacon, Pascal, Pasteur, Von Braun and so many others. Are they all intellectual dolts who merely held two mutually exclusive thoughts together and couldn't bring themselves to Coyne's enlightened view?
3) bald faced assertions: this one could go on for hours but lets just start with the ones that are on the first few paragraphs
a) Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations with material ones. (Some of my atheist professors would love to know more from Coyne about this progression since the resurgence of Christians into philosophy in the past thirty years is somewhat disconcerting to them!)
b) We know know that the universe did require a creator. (I can only assume he is running with Hawkings exercise in futility that the laws of physics created the universe - I love when smart people saw such obviously silly things!)
I could go on with some of the actual arguments that he squeezes in between the polemics, but that is a good start for now. Let me know what you think.
Bill

Bill Honsberger said...

Dear Sirhab - certainly I will give examples of each.
Logical Fallacies:
1) Begging the question - "recent work on the brain has shown no evidence for souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head". Since by definition the soul or spirit is immaterial - no amount of scanning (research?) will discover it. There is no serious Christian who believes in the soul who thinks it is a material entity - therefore Coyne begs by question by assuming materialism and then "showing" materialism to have declined to find the "evidence". You certainly can disagree with the idea of a soul, but starting with materialistic presuppositions is literally assuring the end results.
more in the next post-

Bill Honsberger said...

2) ad hominems: "But the existence of religious scientists, or religious people who accept science, doesn't prove that the two areas are incompatible. It shows only that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time" This is mere academic speak for "moron". Any one who studies philosophy at all learns how you successfully brand your opponent without the clumsy name calling of, say someone like Hume. This is what makes Dawkins so silly, in that even other famous atheists (Ruse and others) are embarrassed by him, is that his stridency and name calling is more in tune with college sophomores than more seasoned academics. (and as Notre Dame philosopher Plantinga noted - to call Dawkins sophmoric is an insult to sophomores!) Doug's second post on this shows the true nature of Coynes insult - Bad thinkers hold to contradictory thoughts - but as Doug shows (eg Kepler, Farraday, Galileo) I will gladly up the ante with Newton, Bacon, Pascal, Pasteur, Von Braun and so many others. Are they all intellectual dolts who merely held two mutually exclusive thoughts together and couldn't bring themselves to Coyne's enlightened view?
more in the next post -

Bill Honsberger said...

3) bald faced assertions: this one could go on for hours but lets just start with the ones that are on the first few paragraphs
a) Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations with material ones. (Some of my atheist professors would love to know more from Coyne about this progression since the resurgence of Christians into philosophy in the past thirty years is somewhat disconcerting to them!)
b) We know know that the universe did require a creator. (I can only assume he is running with Hawkings exercise in futility that the laws of physics created the universe - I love when smart people saw such obviously silly things!)
I could go on with some of the actual arguments that he squeezes in between the polemics, but that is a good start for now. Let me know what you think.
Bill

Sirfab said...

Thank you for your reply, Mr Honsberger. I have been wildly busy at the office, too busy to put together a reply.

By the way, my wife Loretta sends her regards.

Fab

Sirfab said...

Mr. Honsberger, I finally have had time to put together a list of questions in response to your answers.

Regarding point 1) you "accuse" Jerry Coyne of assuming that the soul is material, then you say that "starting with materialistic presuppositions is literally assuring the end results." In so doing, aren't you guilty of the same charge yourself? If you put the soul beyond the realm of material entities, than you impose an element of faith on the discussion and on those who don't believe in the supernatural. It seems to me that the accusation leveled against Jerry Coyne can just as easily be turned against believers. In essence, we are speaking of conflicting, irreconcilable world views, which is exactly the gist of Jerry Coyne's argument, i.e. that religion adds nothing to science (in that the supernatural is-by definition--incompatible with the natural) and that the best science can do for religion is to refute its claims.

Regarding point 2), you are assuming foul intent on the part of Jerry Coyne (when you say that his point about people holding conflicting ideas in one brain is tantamount to calling them "morons".) It seems to me that such an assumption may be gratuitous and that, in any case, from the point of view of a scientist, the point that Coyne makes is simply that you cannot have it both ways. In other words you cannot follow the scientific method when you can employ it to your advantage and cast it aside when it's more convenient to invoke a god of the gaps. I happen to agree with Coyne on this.

As for your appeal to authority (the list of religious scientists) aside from the obvious point that through the ages the only way a person could pursue scientific research was to align itself with the Catholic Church, at least in name, for every believing scientist on the side of ID (or some sort of theism or deism), there is a multitude of scientists named Steve who believe that ID does not deserve a moment's thought. (See Project Steve.) The idea that science is a matter simply of counting heads is ridiculous, because what matters in science is the reproducibility of results and the consistency of findings v expectations. In other words, if a scientific theory is mistaken, findings/research will eventually bear that out.

So the onus is on the proponents of ID and until they do more than advance unproven/indemonstrable hypotheses or resort to the Bible as the source of pseudo-science, scientists are not obliged to concede anything to religion in scientific debates.

Finally, regarding 3) the statement that science relentlessly consumes divine explanations with material ones is fact and not opinion. The fact that science does not consume divine explanations fast enough for religious people to be persuaded, or that there are gaps in the explanation does not necessitate the intrusion of a deity in the scientific process.

As for the statement that the we know that the universe requires a creator, as you say, research is actually pointing in the direction that we do not. The obvious "who made the creator" question stands as ominous as it always did, and in any case it does not necessitate the god of the Bible. Moreover, as our scientific knowledge expands, and hypotheses like the multiverse theory are advanced, the assumption that the creator of our planet/galaxy/universe has any interest in the human race, or that it is itself the ultimate creator, is a matter not of science but of faith.

Apologies for the late reply, and thanks again for taking the time to respond (and to the Curmudgeon for allowing these posts.)

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Steve Greene said...

You wrote, "If conclusive arguments could be shown that Christ is dead and buried and that the beliefs of the apostles and the rest of the early church were false, I would give up Christianity."

Of course, since that's something that happened almost 2,000 years ago and for which it would be impossible to actually identify the dead body as Jesus Christ, assuming the dead body was even still around to find (and it probably wouldn't be anyway), then we see that Jerry Coyne's remark is not incorrect.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Steve:

What I said about Christ's death and resurrection are meaningful; this is because ancient history is a domain of knowledge. Arguments and counterarguments are put forth. I have assessed the most substantial arguments on the resurrection (recently in a long chapter of a forthcoming book), and find that the resurrection is the best explanation of the historical data.