Sorry for the lack of blogging. Such are the vicissitudes of academic life. Piles of free time one week, crazy busy the next.
The fallout over Jerry Coyne’s recent article in TNR continues. Sam Harris and Steven Pinker have now contributed responses. Both are excellent. Click here and scroll to the bottom. Harris goes for the sarcastic approach:
It is a pity that people like Jerry Coyne and Daniel Dennett can’t see how easily religion and science can be reconciled. Having once viewed the world as they do, I understand how their fundamentalist rationality has blinded them to deeper truths. I’ve wanted to say to both of these men–”Some things are above reason. Way above!” Happily, George Dyson has done this for me in a brilliant essay on this page. He demolishes the intellectual pretensions of militant atheists like Coyne and Dennett in the most elegant way imaginable: by merely divulging the title of a 17th century work by the great Robert Boyle. When I was a militant neo-rationalist, I had a sinking feeling that my colleagues and I had not fully reckoned with Boyle on the argument from Design and were, as a result, risking public humiliation. Now it has come to pass…
If I have one quibble with Dyson, it is that he has been far too modest in drawing out the implications of his argument. He is, of course, right to declare that “science and religion are here to stay.” But magic is here to stay too, George; Africa is full of it. Is there a conflict between scientific rationality and a belief in magic spells? Specifically, is there a conflict between believing that epilepsy is a result of abnormal neural activity and believing that it is a sign of demonic possession? Dogmatists like Coyne and Dennett clearly think so. They don’t realize, as Dyson must, that the more one understands neurology, the more one will understand–and honor–demonology. Have Coyne and Dennett read the work of sophisticated magicians like Aleister Crowley or Eliphas Levi? Don’t count on it. Ask yourself, how could matter conflict with spirit in any way? Answer: it cannot. Forgive me, but I find it embarrassing to have to explain these things to people who are supposed be well educated.
You can say what you want about Sam Harris, but the man knows how to write. Go read his entire (lengthy) essay. There are a few places where I think he overdoes it, but most of his points are spot on.
Steven Pinker also states it plain:
Jerry Coyne applies rigorous standards of logic and evidence to the claims of religion and to the attempts to reconcile it with science. Many scientists who share his atheism still believe that he is somehow being rude or uncouth for pressing the point. But he is right to do so. Knowledge is a continuous fabric, in which ideas are connected to other ideas. Reason-free zones, in which people can assert arbitrary beliefs safe from ordinary standards of evaluation, can only corrupt this fabric, just as a contradiction can corrupt a system of logic, allowing falsehoods to proliferate through it.