Friday, April 01, 2016

Parsons and Feser on Coyne

 From the letters page at First Things. Amen and amen.

Old Atheism
I once read that the Los Alamos physicists during the Manhattan Project refused to consult doctors. Instead, they read medical books on their own, diagnosing themselves and prescribing their own treatments. They assumed that medical science must be trivially easy for anyone who could master nuclear physics.
After reading Edward Feser’s review of Jerry A. Coyne’s Faith vs. Fact (“Omnibus of Fallacies,” ­February), I conclude that some contemporary scientists must have much the same attitude toward philosophy. If you can do population genetics or you are comfortable with tensor calculus, then surely philosophical argument must be a snap. No need for any special training. Wing it, and you will be as good as a pro. Sadly, this is not the case, as amply demonstrated by some of the efforts of the “New Atheists.” When a philosophical pro such as ­Feser subjects their texts to an appropriately astringent analysis, he makes their logical lacunae and sophomoric mistakes glaringly obvious.
If what is done by Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Coyne is the “new” atheism, then I am an ­unapologetic advocate of “old” atheism. That is, I favor atheist advocacy that is argument-dense and skips the invective. Lampooning your opponents as ignorant Bible-beaters may be lowbrow fun, but it is bad manners, and, more to the point, ineffective. Don’t call them names. Defeat their arguments. That is the worst thing you can do to them. However, defeating your opponents’ arguments requires (a) taking their best arguments seriously, and (b) doing your philosophical homework. “Old” atheism is therefore hard. Caricaturing with broad strokes is easy, but it cannot be said to advance rational debate.
In fairness to Coyne, he is no doubt understandably frustrated that his excellent book Why Evolution Is True still needed to be written. Over forty years ago, Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Even back then it had been true for a long, long time. Coyne is exactly right that the continued cultural resistance to evolution has its source in ideology rather than science, and that the obscurantist ideologies are religiously motivated. However, the way to address this ­issue is not by setting up simplistic false dichotomies between “faith” and “fact.” True, if you define “faith” as Ambrose Bierce did—“Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel”—then it is easy to equate religious belief with obfuscation. Again, though, the purposes of rational debate are not served.
From the first publication of the Origin of Species, Darwin had religious allies. Darwin gladly accepted the aid and support of such allies. Harvard botanist and conservative Congregationalist Asa Gray was perhaps Darwin’s leading supporter in the United States. Evolution’s conflict is not with religion per se, but with certain dubious theological tenets. The best antidote to bad religion is good religion, but you lose the potential aid of the latter when you tar everything with the same brush.
Keith M. Parsons
The university of Houston-Clear Lake
Houston, Texas

Edward Feser replies:

I thank Keith Parsons for giving us a little of that old-time atheism. That the dispute between theism and ­atheism is essentially a philosophical disagreement rather than a matter for empirical science to settle is as true today as it was in Aristotle’s age, or Plotinus’s, or Aquinas’s, or Leibniz’s. And as the “old atheist” philosopher David Stove once said, “it takes a philosopher to catch a philosopher.”
Yet as philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend once lamented, the ­scientists of his generation—­Feynman, Schwinger, et al.—despite their brilliance, were, compared to the generation of Einstein and Bohr, “uncivilized savages” who “lack[ed] depth” when addressing matters of philosophy. Sadly, the generation of Dawkins, Krauss, and Coyne makes even Feynman and company look like philosophical giants. Combine these premises and we get the conclusion that contemporary skeptics are well advised to look to professional philosophers like Parsons rather than to amateurs like Coyne if they want their atheism to be improved as well as “new.”

26 comments:

Joe Hinman said...

Coyne is truly an idiot

Cal Metzger said...

If the study of philosophy is about how to live a life well considered, it appears from this post that the study of academic philosophy is about how to live an intellectual life filled with envy.

Legion of Logic said...

Coyne should really stick to talking about evolution if he wants to keep from embarrassing himself. Maybe then he wouldn't have to so heavily censor his blog's comment section.

John Loftus said...

The unique differences between Old Atheism and the New Atheism?

The Old Atheism existed before September 11, 2001.
Afterward the New Atheism arose, where intellectuals got serious about the irrationality of faith.

The Old Atheism took the arguments of believers seriously in order to convince them they are wrong. In doing so they stayed strictly within their own disciplines.

The New Atheism represents intellectuals who are so convinced religious faith is wrong from within their own disciplines they will venture outside their disciplines, disregarding the fact that people like Feser and Parsons will write such things about them. They are not attempting to persuade people like Feser, since delusional intellectuals like him cannot be reached. They are reaching out to others.

The Old Atheism was respectful toward belief.
The New Atheism is not respectful. Faith deserves little or no respect because of the harms of faith. We have passed the point of no return. Now is the time to ridicule Christian faith and others in our world just as we ridicule the dead religions and gods of the past.

Science has progressed past the tepid passions of the Old Atheism.
Science is now destroying faith which provides New Atheism with new found passion.

Their are plenty of exceptions of course, like Madalyn Murray O'Hair, for one.

----------------
I don't expect people to agree with me here. But I do think these are unique differences.



Victor Reppert said...

So religion is the problem, and 9.11 showed this? Let me ask this question. What if Dawkins had written the following:

“Allah of the Qur'an is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Would he be alive today?

planks length said...

The New Atheism represents intellectuals...

I stopped reading right there. I was working too hard at controlling my laughter.

B. Prokop said...

"just as we ridicule the dead religions and gods of the past"

This is an interesting statement. Makes me wonder whether Loftus has ever read Gilgamesh or The Theogony or The Iliad or the plays of Aeschylus. I find nothing to ridicule in any of them, but rather pray that I can take in even a tithe of their deep wisdom and humanity.

Jezu ufam tobie!

John Loftus said...

Vic, if Dawkins had said what he did in the 13th or 14th centuuries your predecessors would have killed him, so what is your point?

John Loftus said...

B. Prokop, nothing you have said or asked is remotely relevant to what I am saying.

Victor Reppert said...

Just this: the abandonment of religious violence took place in Western civilization, and indeed the growth of Western liberal democracy, is principally the work of Christians, not atheists or skeptics. Attacking religion in general won't prevent 9/11s, it is very likely to, if anything, provoke them. Even within Islam, there is a wide variety of conceptions of how church and state should be related, although political action was present at the foundation of Islam in a way is was not in Christianity for the first few centuries. There is a successful democracy in Indonesia, which is an Islam country. So the connection between "religion" and violence is as silly as Donald Trump saying that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to come to America.

Victor Reppert said...

John: You said that we ridicule the dead religions of the past. Bob's point is that we don't do this, nor should we.

John Loftus said...

Vic, I was unaware you meant to convey all of that with your comment. It didn't come through. I suspect it was on hindsight.

Christians abandoned religious violence due to the number of other Christians they killed. 8 million were killed during the French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War. And you want to clam credit for that? Wow!

Muslims will change their tune someday too, when too much Muslim blood will be spilt. Then they can join you in saying their faith is not bloodthirsty.

Geez. You really should read my anthology "Christianity is Not Great." You would learn a lot.

John Loftus said...

So B. Prokop, Vic defends your irrelevancies. Okay. But surely you do not give their ancient religions the time of day. You shrug their child and virgin sacrifices off with the wave of your hand, and you have laughed at the simplicity of the local pantheons of gods and goddesses, or you should. Say instead you really learn a great deal about the truth of religion by contemplating their faiths. Okay.

B. Prokop said...

Yes, John, I have learned more than I can possibly relate in any posting from faiths other than Christianity - including faiths long since vanished. I have read the Bhagavad Gita in three different translations, and the Daodejing in two. I have pondered the (yes) wisdom of Hesiod, Homer, Heraclitus, and whoever wrote Gilgamesh. I have stood motionless for hours in the ancient stone circles of Britain and Ireland, absorbing what little I could manage of what drove their builders to conceive of such beauty, and contemplating what motivated them to expend such effort and resources in their construction. I have walked the sands of Mesopotamia and meditated on the faith of the designers of ancient Eridu. I have silently witnessed the worshipers in Buddhist temples in East Asia. I have observed the Japanese honoring their dead in Shinto cemeteries, in rituals of surpassing dignity. I have observed Muslims at prayer in the Middle East, and seen with my own eyes their great piety. I once stood spellbound for a good 30 minutes before a statue of Aphrodite in the British Museum, overcome by the realization that I was looking at an image of not just a beautiful woman, but of God (or, at least as perceived by the sculptor).

No, I find no room in my heart or my mind for ridicule when confronted by such things. Only a person with no capability for understanding, with no depth of perception, of no ability to bridge the space between one's own necessarily narrow perspective and the broad experience of humanity, could possibly even consider ridicule to be at all appropriate.

Jezu ufam tobie!

John Loftus said...

If anyone lacks understanding here it's you B. Prokop, and Vic who defends you. For you have once again missed my point and responded with more irrelevancies.

My point is that if anyone were to seriously consider advocating the merits of any dead religions and/or worshipping these dead gods, I would scoff at doing so. I wouldn't have to come up with an argument against them. I would simply laugh, much as I would laugh at the KKK.

This is what faith does to a mind like yours, and I want nothing to do with it.

Joe Hinman said...

My point is that if anyone were to seriously consider advocating the merits of any dead religions and/or worshipping these dead gods, I would scoff at doing so. I wouldn't have to come up with an argument against them. I would simply laugh, much as I would laugh at the KKK.


new atheism would laugh at the Wright brothers ten refuse to go to Kitty hawk.

John you are just demonstrating your lack of understanding to literalize the metaphors so solidly. Really a super fundi understanding. All religious language is analogical. All concepts of God are prehension (see Hartshorne) filtered though cultural constructs.

B. Prokop said...

John's comment sadly demonstrates the poverty of mind and total inability (or perhaps just unwillingness) to see anything outside one's own mindset that lies behind such atheist tropes as "I simply believe in one less God than you." There is only one God in Whom to believe, and all of Mankind's "gods" are noble attempts to discern Him. Saint Paul knew this well when he addressed the Athenians: "Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him I declare!" (Acts 17:23, translation by Charles Williams) Paul did not ridicule the ancient religions. He rather demonstrated to their adherents that what was true in their faiths led inexorably to the Source of Truth - Jesus. The Second Vatican Council said basically the same thing when it declared "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [other] religions."

There is no need to ridicule our ancestors for the products of their noblest aspirations, their most profound thoughts, their deepest love, their most beautiful artistry, finest literature, most sublime music, and greatest architecture. How much more profitable for us to actually learn something from them.

So yes, John. I do not disbelieve in any of the gods of "dead religions", insofar as they reflect some facet of the One True God, which I might otherwise never have seen.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Ilíon said...

VR: "... as silly as Donald Trump saying that [Moslems] shouldn't be allowed to come to America."

What exactly does "silly" mean in this context? And *why* is that "silly"?

planks length said...

It's silly inasmuch as the media and the Thought Police will crucify him without trial, without even thinking about what is being proposed.

Knee.
Jerk.

Joe Hinman said...

VR: "... as silly as Donald Trump saying that [Moslems] shouldn't be allowed to come to America."

What exactly does "silly" mean in this context? And *why* is that "silly"?

but Dr. R. that's a tautology. In fact you might use that to illustrate the concept to your classes. Trump and silly.

Joe Hinman said...

It's silly inasmuch as the media and the Thought Police will crucify him without trial, without even thinking about what is being proposed.

you have got to be kidding. let's hesitantly and prayerfully suggest that we might deem to offer timid criticism of this guy who has no learning and can't face an issue with any kind critical faculty, and is always going to learn all about it latter because he's so brilliant (because he's rich) and who asks his followers to be ready to punch people if they "look like they are going to throw stuff" you th9ink that's just too are to actually criticize him.

Has the church really Jesus so completely? Go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, sacrifice, give your life, help others and yet we must harassed reject the lost and the desperate the dying women and children because there is some chance our enemies could weak in with them. But they could anyway.

America was about freedom of religion remember that one? you buy into the BS that all Muslims hate3 us. The terrorists are t Islam as KKK is Christianity, can't you see that?

Ilíon said...

^ What a preening fool.

Again I say, it is too bad that the consequences of the intentional-and-willful sin of such fools cannot be limited to the fools themselves. It's too bad that it won't be only this fool and his ilk who get blown up, or shot up, or their heads removed by the Religionists of Pieces.

"America was about freedom of religion remember that one?"

America is a truce between Christian sects.

planks length said...

OK, Joe, now that you've proven my point about a knee jerk reaction, answer me this one question, please. Would you rather see Europe and the USA as majority Muslim or majority Christian? No PC bullshit, now - which is it?

And I'm not the least bit interested in your opinion about Trump. (I personally can't stand the guy, despite my agreement with him on this specific issue.) Stick to the question. Would you be happy to see the USA become an Islamic state?

Victor Reppert said...

I don't think it's even feasible to screen people out of our country based on religion. If someone has to say they're not a Muslim to be in America, what do we have to do, conduct an Inquisition to determine if they aren't really practicing Islam on the sly?

I don't think the proposal was very well thought through. There are many types of Muslims, the fact that someone is Muslim doesn't really give us good reason to think they are a terrorist, any more than knowing that someone is a Christian tells us they are likely to be a snake-handler, even though all snake-handlers are Christian.

lamer said...

The New Atheism represents intellectuals who are so convinced religious faith is wrong

... and that's what's alarming: many - arguably most - of these New Atheists were also at one point "so convinced" religious faith was right.

What we see here is just the molting of one fundamentalist skin for another - as opposed to the true evolution such mammals need!

ds said...

Loftus post is actually revealing but not in the manner he suggests
“The Old Atheism existed before September 11, 2001.
Afterward the New Atheism arose, where intellectuals got serious about the irrationality of faith.”
Here Loftus shows that in fact new atheism is a knee jerk emotional reaction, because one religiously terrorist atrocity occurred on US soil people concluded that all religious beliefs are irrational and dangerous.
That’s just an obviously bad inductive inference.

“The Old Atheism took the arguments of believers seriously in order to convince them they are wrong. In doing so they stayed strictly within their own disciplines.

The New Atheism represents intellectuals who are so convinced religious faith is wrong from within their own disciplines they will venture outside their disciplines, disregarding the fact that people like Feser and Parsons will write such things about them. They are not attempting to persuade people like Feser, since delusional intellectuals like him cannot be reached. They are reaching out to others.”
This is basically admitting new atheism is sophistical con, note what Loftus says, first that people are convinced of there position prior to examining it. Second, that on the basis of this conviction they venture into fields they don’t understand or have any knowledge of to articulate it. Third, they don’t care that people trained in the field will point out errors because they aren’t actually trying to persuade people who have the knowledge to asses it.
That’s just saying, that people who are convinced for no reason, ignore the fact and attempt to persuade others they also know don’t know the facts. Which is called a con job.

“The Old Atheism was respectful toward belief.
The New Atheism is not respectful. Faith deserves little or no respect because of the harms of faith. We have passed the point of no return. Now is the time to ridicule Christian faith and others in our world just as we ridicule the dead religions and gods of the past.”

Here Loftus states that his methods are basically irrational and involve social shaming and coercion instead

“Science has progressed past the tepid passions of the Old Atheism.
Science is now destroying faith which provides New Atheism with new found passion.”

Here Loftus just cites slogans.

Basically, Loftus has pretty much publically admitted he supports sophistry, note what he is defending, a) dogmatically assume your correct b) don’t study the topic just pronounce on it c) don’t accept peer review from others who do know the topic d) deliberately target people who don’t know about the topic and cant give such peer review as your audience e) shame and bully critics into submission with ridicule.

These are of course the tactics of every cult leader and propagandist in history.