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Atheist tribalism

March 6, 2010

Wilkins has a good post with much to agree with:

Look, I don’t care if atheists are aggressive or not. Certainly being excluded themselves, they have the right to be loud and proud. I think they should speak out at every turn. But does that require that they must denigrate and belittle those who don’t entirely agree with them? Must they turn into what they themselves despise? It seems, sadly, this is the human condition. But don’t pretend to be the vanguard of rationality when you are just as irrational and tribal as everyone else. The term for that is not “rational”, but “hypocritical”.

Read on.

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  1. Wes
    March 8, 2010 at 6:07 am

    From Wilkins’ post:

    In fact, the data is that science and religion coexist nearly all the time – most of those who support scientific views are religious. This is because most of everyone is religious, of course, but the fact remains: if one approaches this as a scientific matter, science and religion just are coexistent, that’s the fact of the matter.

    I usually like Wilkins a lot, so I’m extremely disappointed to see him uncritically regurgitating this stupid argument (which happens to be one of Rosenau’s favorites). If we accept mere co-existence as our standard for compatibility, then science is compatible with absolutely anything, because you can always find some place where science and any other given belief co-exist. The argument fails for one simple reason: Co-existence does not imply compatibility.

    The real issue for me is whether or not supernatural claims can be reconciled with scientific findings without question-begging, special pleading, or argument from ignorance. It is my view that they cannot, and I have yet to be presented with evidence to the contrary.

    The central theistic claim is that an omnipotent personal being created and controls the universe. Science has revealed a universe that has no such personal features. The universe, according to all available scientific evidence, is an impersonal place that exists without any regard to us. If someone wishes to claim that the universe we live in is created and controlled by a personal being, then the burden of proof is on them to show something about the universe which accords with that claim (without question-begging, special pleading, or argument from ignorance).

    The closest thing I’ve come across is the monumentally pathetic “fine-tuning” argument, which is really just creationism for physics. It’s another argument from ignorance, and it fails to provide any evidence for theism.

    In the absence of such evidence, the only reasonable conclusion is to hold, tentatively, that the universe is not controlled by a personal being, because that’s where the evidence currently leans. And I see no reason to accept the suggestion that there is no contradiction between science and theism until evidence is produced which contradicts the observations so far which indicate that the universe is impersonal. The only position I can think of, which fits the available evidence without question-begging, special pleading, or argument from ignorance, is atheism.

  2. J-Dog
    March 9, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Wes – Excellent post – I saved it for future use, whick I am sure will be early and often, giving proper attribution of course!

  3. Wes
    March 9, 2010 at 8:13 am

    There’s one other glaring error in Wilkins’ post that I have to point out:

    What Jerry Coyne and the anti-accommodationists are doing, as Josh points out, is a version of logical positivism (Josh does not use that example – that’s me).

    If that’s you, John, then you have no excuse, seeing as you are an expert on philosophy of science.

    The postivists held that theological sentences are meaningless. A statement like “God created the world” is neither true nor false–it’s just empty theological language.

    This is not the position of guys like Jerry Coyne, as I understand it. Their position is that these statements are false, based on the available evidence. But in order to be false, it must be meaningful. And if they think these sentences are meaningful, then they are not like the logical positivists.

    I get really tired of philosophers beating the dead horse of logical positivism every time they want to deflect the question of whether theistic claims about reality can be accommodated to scientific claims about reality. Yes, the positivists were wrong. That doesn’t make “An all-powerful personal being created the universe” any more compatible with what we know about the universe. To paraphrase the world’s most obnoxious YouTube pseudo-celebrity: “Leave Carnap alone!”

  4. John Wilkins
    March 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Wes

    I wish you’d responded at my site where an ongoing discussion is happening, but I’d like to briefly make a couple of points (and then go to teach, which is why briefly).

    If you look at the next sentences of the passage you quote above, it reads:

    “They are saying that those who attempt to argue that religion and science are compatible or might coexist are being unscientific, are themselves being unscientific. In fact, the data is that science and religion coexist nearly all the time – most of those who support scientific views are religious. This is because most of everyone is religious, of course, but the fact remains: if one approaches this as a scientific matter, science and religion just are coexistent, that’s the fact of the matter.”

    Notice the conditional there: “If one approaches this as a scientific matter…”. This suggests that one cannot make the claim that it is, because the facts say otherwise. So it must not be a scientific matter even in Coyne’s terms. Hence, I argue, Coyne is making out a philosophical position. Do you deny this?

    Assuming you do not, then Coyne cannot say that one must not attend to philosophical positions offered by others (such as, for example, the claim that there are ways to reconcile religion and science) tout court, on pain of begging the question.

    In my blog entry I write:

    “Back when a philosophy known now as logical positivism was fashionable, the claim was made that whatever was not scientifically verifiable was metaphysical rubbish. This was known as the Verification Principle. Karl Popper, among others, noted that the Verification Principle was not scientifically verifiable and was therefore, on its own account, metaphysical rubbish. That put an end to that version of logical positivism (although no philosophical position ever really dies). It was self-defeating.”

    Yes, if you like you can be a bit less dramatic and replace “metaphysical rubbish” with “meaningless”, salve veritate. How does that change my point? I did not say that the logical positivistic verification principle was false; I said it was rubbish. So I think you had better try to read what I actually wrote, and not what you thought I wrote, before criticising my argument, okay?

    David Hull once referred to the logical positivists as “the all-purpose evil demons of philosophy”. I concur – they actually had a lot going on worth reading, and I return to them, especially Carnap and Schlick, repeatedly. But that doesn’t change the logical point that the VP is self-defeating.

  5. Wes
    March 9, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    I wish you’d responded at my site where an ongoing discussion is happening, but I’d like to briefly make a couple of points (and then go to teach, which is why briefly).

    I normally would have. But, to be honest, there are certain people involved in that discussion that I find extremely obnoxious, and decided a while back not to engage with any more. My posting here rather than there isn’t in any way a slight against you. It’s just because there are certain commenters there that I’d rather not go in circles with.

    Notice the conditional there: “If one approaches this as a scientific matter…”. This suggests that one cannot make the claim that it is, because the facts say otherwise. So it must not be a scientific matter even in Coyne’s terms. Hence, I argue, Coyne is making out a philosophical position. Do you deny this?

    Assuming you do not, then Coyne cannot say that one must not attend to philosophical positions offered by others (such as, for example, the claim that there are ways to reconcile religion and science) tout court, on pain of begging the question.

    Coyne, on his blog, has repeatedly referred to the philosophical incompatibility of science and religion. I don’t see his rejection of the compatibility thesis as resting on the assumption that philosophical positions need not be attended to.

    He, like many scientists, has a tin ear for philosophy. He and Massimo Pigliucci have gotten into it with each other a couple times, largely because a philosophical point sailed right over Coyne’s head. But that shouldn’t be surprising. He’s not a philosopher.

    I think your “Coyne has a philosophical position” argument is a red herring. It doesn’t address any of the central objections to the compatibility thesis.

    Yes, if you like you can be a bit less dramatic and replace “metaphysical rubbish” with “meaningless”, salve veritate. How does that change my point?

    Because Coyne doesn’t treat theological sentences as meaningless. He treats them as false. There’s a big difference between meaningless and false. If he thinks that theological statements are verifiable (which he clearly does–otherwise, he wouldn’t describe them as false) then he is very different from a logical positivist.

    As I understand it, the objection to the compatibility thesis is along the lines of “The statement ‘God created the world’ is a verifiable statement, and the evidence is against it.” That’s my impression of the position of people like Jerry Coyne.

    You may or may not agree, but logical positivism and other such things are just red herrings. They reject the idea that such statements are verifiable (and hence meaningful) at all, so they have no dog in such a fight.

    I did not say that the logical positivistic verification principle was false; I said it was rubbish. So I think you had better try to read what I actually wrote, and not what you thought I wrote, before criticising my argument, okay?

    I didn’t impute such a view to you. I accused you of beating the dead horse of logical positivism. The horse is dead because VP doesn’t work as the standard for meaning. We both agree on that.

    David Hull once referred to the logical positivists as “the all-purpose evil demons of philosophy”. I concur – they actually had a lot going on worth reading, and I return to them, especially Carnap and Schlick, repeatedly. But that doesn’t change the logical point that the VP is self-defeating.

    Then stop calling people “logical positivists” when they hold views which are clearly antithetical to logical positivism–such as that theological sentences are meaningful.

  1. March 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm
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