Since I have the sad task of criticizing my fellow science bloggers today, we may as well have a look at this post, from John Lynch.
Lynch takes issue with the following statement from Weinberg, quoted approvingly by Myers:
I find it disturbing that Thomas Nagel in the New Republic dismisses Dawkins as an “amateur philosopher”, while Terry Eagleton in the London Review of Books sneers at Dawkins for his lack of theological training. Are we to conclude that opinions on matters of philosophy or religion are only to be expressed by experts, not mere scientists or other common folk? It is like saying that only political scientists are justified in expressing views on politics. Eagleton’s judgement is particularly inappropriate; it is like saying that no one is entitled to judge the validity of astrology who cannot cast a horoscope.
PZ provides a link to a review of The God Delusion by theoretical cosmologist Steven Weinberg and approvingly provides two quotes. I want to alter part of one of them a little:
Are we to conclude that opinions on matters of [evolutionary biology] are only to be expressed by experts, not mere [lawyers] or other common folk?
Many of us involved with fighting creationism have argued for years that expertise is important in scientific matters. That’s why lawyers like Phil Johnson need to demonstrate their knowledge of evolution before they are taken seriously. Any one can express an opinion, but to be taken seriously on a scientific issue, one must have engaged in serious study of the matter at hand. This, of course, also holds for non-scientific areas of study.
Weinberg is attempting to argue that Dawkins is entitled to voicing his opinion about religious matters, and indeed he is, just as I’m entitled to express my opinion about any matter. Unless Dawkins has demonstrated his knowledge of the subject at hand, one could argue that his opinion on religion is as valid as Johnson’s on evolution or mine on bridge building.
Well, I’ll meet Lynch part way. There is a problem with Weinberg’s statement, but it is not the one Lynch identifies.
Weinberg’s statement implies that there are people out there who are experts on the philosophical and religious issues Dawkins discusses, but that Dawkins himself is not one of them. Presumably these experts are found among the philosophers and theologians.
But, as I have argued before, philosophers and theologians have no special expertise to offer on the question of whether God exists. Anyone of reasonable intelligence with some time on his hands is qualified to discuss the subject. This stands in stark contrast to, say, evolutionary biology. There, as in any science, there is a large body of technical material that must be assimilated before one can even understand what the questions are. Such mastery requires a great deal of time and can be difficult to attain on one’s own. That is why someone without scientific training must prove himself before his opinions are granted any weight.
The subjects on which philosophers and theologians can plausibly claim to be experts are not anything of importance to the questions Dawkins was discussing. If you want to know the history of the ontological argument or the various attempts to reformulate it over the years, then you might want to seek out a philosopher. But if your interest is in good, clear thinking on the subject of God’s existence, then Dawkins is as qualified as anyone.