Coyne is Right, Mooney is Wrong

Another little blogfracas has erupted on the subject of accommodtaionism between science and religion. Chris Mooney, channeling Barbara Forrest, reiterated the standard complaints against those of us who argue that science and religion generally, and evolution and Christianity in particular, are not compatible. The specific target of his ire was Jerry Coyne’s recent, largely negative review of the current accommodationist books by Ken Miller and Karl Giberson. Coyne has replied in some detail to Mooney. Mooney has now posted two partial replies to Coyne here and here, and has promised several more.

I won’t attempt to reply in detail to Mooney’s post. I think Coyne replied very effectively over at his own blog, and regular readers of this blog already know what I think about this issue. There were, however, two issues I wanted to raise.

Mooney writes

Forrest then gave three reasons that secularists should not alienate religious moderates:

One of the three reasons was

3. Humility. Science can’t prove a negative: Saying there is no God is saying more than we can ever really know empirically, or based on data and evidence. So why drive a wedge between religious and non-religious defenders of evolution when it is not even possible to definitively prove the former wrong about metaphysics?

This is a straw man. Absolutely no one (with the possible exception of William Provine) thinks that evolution or science generally flaly disproves God. Not Coyne, not Myers, not Dawkins, not Hitchens, not Harris, not Dennett, not Stenger. No one. The cliam is that science has a big role to play in making traditional views of God seem unsupportable, and that there is no evidence whatever to support the existence of a transcendant, supernatural deity.

So where do we find a lack of humility in this debate? Well, here’s an excerpt from the statement of Pope John Paul II on the subject of evolution.

But even more, man is called to enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will find its complete fulfillment beyond time, in eternity. All the depth and grandeur of this vocation are revealed to us in the mystery of the risen Christ (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22). It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God (“animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei”; “Humani Generis,” 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man.

Translation:

We begrudgingly recognize your meticulously collected evidence and cogent argumentation on the subject of evolution. But know your place, science. We are the final arbiters of truth. It is for us to hold forth on the truth about man, and if you contradict us then you are wrong. And we don’t have to defend our ideas with facts or evidence or anything of that sort. Our pronouncements are not for you to challenge.

Where’s the humility in the Pope’s statement? Where’s the humility in thinking the religious sect you lead has unique access to the basic truths of life? Remind me again who is going beyond what data and evidence can support.

The second point has to do with strategy. Mooney writes:

Basically, Forrest’s point was that while Coyne may be right that there’s no good reason to believe in the supernatural, he’s very misguided about strategy. Especially when we have the religious right to worry about, why is he criticizing people like Miller and Giberson for their attempts to reconcile modern science and religion?

To which I ask: strategy towards what end?

Coyne is criticizing people like Miller and Giberson because they are offering bad arguments on important subjects. He is criticizing them because reconciling science and religion is not a goal we should want to pursue. First, because it nearly always comes at the cost of compromising science, and second because it entails carving out a place in civil discourse for very bad ideas about knowledge and authority.

It is not as if our only two choices are a world of the religious right or a world of Millers and Gibersons. There is a third option, in which people are free to believe whatever they want but in which religion is marginalized in the public conversation. It is not an unattainable option, as many European countries show, but we are certain never to get there so long as we are unwilling to challenge bad religious ideas. That those bad ideas are sometimes linked with political stances we like is neither here nor there.

Moving on, let’s look a bit more closely at what exactly Coyne did to bring Mooney and Forrest down upon him. He published a book review. In The New Republic. In this review he did not level a single ad hominem attack and praised certain aspects of what Miller and Giberson have done. He then went on to criticize their ideas. Mooney himself, in his follow-up post, wrote

So-I have recently reread Jerry Coyne’s lengthy New Republic piece, which is at the source of some of our debates; and let me say, it is a very good, extensive, thoughtful article.

Are you seriously telling me that is poor tactics? A very good, thoughtful, extensive book review in a high-level venue like TNR is just too much for those poor, delicate liberal Christians to handle? Please. Any Christian who has genuinely made his peace with evolution is not going to be driven to the other side because Jerry Coyne offered a few contrary thoughts.

The whole thing is reminiscent of that Jerome Bixby short story “It’s a Good Life” (later made into a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone). That’s the one with the three-year old who has God-like powers, but lacks any sense of judgment or conscience. Whenever someone does something he doesn’t like, the kid simply wills something terrible to happen to that person. Everyone has to go around thinking happy thoughts all the time, because happy thoughts are relaxing to the kid. And everytime the kid throws a tantrum everyone has to say things like, “It’s very good that you did that. We’re all so happy you turned Mr. Smith into that terrible thing.”

That’s what I think of whenever I read essays like Mooney’s. Liberal Christians are playing the role of the kid. Coyne et al are in the role of those doing things the kid doesn’t like. And Mooney et al are in the role of those trying to soothe the kid. “Mr. Coyne didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. It’s very good that you believe religious clerics and holy texts have something valuable to tell us about the workings of nature…”

In one of his follow-up posts Mooney bristled at the idea that he is telling Coyne, in effect, to shut up. Mooney writes

So although I shouldn’t have to, let me come out and say it: I believe in freedom of speech and the value of dialogue and the open exchange of ideas. I have never argued that anybody ought to shut up, be quiet, etc. This simply wrong.

Nobody wants anybody to shut up. This is America. Etc.

No, he didn’t argue that Coyne should shut up. He only argued that writing a very good, thoughtful, extensive article for The New Republic was evidence of how woefully misguided Coyne is about strategy. Which raises the question: where should Coyne have expressed his views? If even a relatively tame article in a high-level venue like TNR is too much for liberal Christians, then what could Coyne have done, short of shutting up, that would have mollified them?

It sure sounds like Mooney is telling Coyne to shut up, if only for strategic reasons.

Comments

  1. #1 SLC
    June 3, 2009

    One would have thought that Mr. Mooneys’ sojourn in Los Angeles would have gotten him out from under the influence of Prof. Matt Nesbit but apparently not entirely.

  2. #2 Pseudonym
    June 3, 2009

    I’m not going to defend Mooney, but this is just a silly complaint:

    Coyne is criticizing people like Miller and Giberson because they are offering bad arguments on important subjects.

    What “important subjects” are these? I haven’t read any Giberson, but AFAICT, all that Miller is saying (in a round-about way) is that that religious people should agree with evolution. If you understand that, then his arguments are actually quite good.

    It’s not like he’s saying you should be religious, FSM forbid.

  3. #3 Wes
    June 3, 2009

    Forrest then gave three reasons that secularists should not alienate religious moderates:

    1. Etiquette. Or as Forrest put it, “be nice.” Religion is a very private matter, and given that liberal religionists support church-state separation, we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world. After all, they are not trying to force it on anybody else.

    The above quote is from Mooney’s original blog post. I do not see how it could be interpreted in any way other than “Hey, atheists! Shut up!”

    We have no business questioning how others make meaning of the world? Really? What I find especially bizarre is his insistence that it was studying philosophy that lead him to this position. Philosophy consists pretty much entirely of skeptically questioning how ourselves and others find meaning in the world. His “etiquette” objection is completely anti-philosophical.

  4. #4 Joel
    June 3, 2009

    Pseudonym, a large part of it is they attempt to reconcile religion in science by arguing that, for example, God might be acting in the world by altering the outcome of various quantum events, which is utterly unsupported in any sense, or that God fine-tuned evolution so as to make a bipedal ape who would worship him inevitable.

    These things may well work as a strategy for getting the religious to accept evolution, but if so they’ll also create some misconceptions and unsupportable ideas that will be hard to dislodge later.

  5. #5 Crandaddy
    June 3, 2009

    We begrudgingly recognize your meticulously collected evidence and cogent argumentation on the subject of evolution. But know your place, science. We are the final arbiters of truth. It is for us to hold forth on the truth about man, and if you contradict us then you are wrong. And we don’t have to defend our ideas with facts or evidence or anything of that sort. Our pronouncements are not for you to challenge.

    And just how is this anything like a translation of the quote you provided?

    First of all, I don’t see anywhere that John Paul II concedes anything of the “meticulously collected evidence” or “cogent argumentation” for evolution.

    Second, he sees “theories of evolution” appertaining to the evolution of man as “incompatible” with what he takes to be the “truth about man,” but this does not necessarily mean that he (or the Church) are the final arbiters of such truth. Or if it does, feel free to offer a proof.

    Finally, in a twist of irony, you shove into JPII’s mouth the curious and completely unfounded (either in the quote or anywhere else) claim that “we don’t have to defend our ideas with facts or evidence or anything of that sort.”

    Excuse me, but volumes upon volumes of rigorous defenses of Christian doctrine have been produced over the centuries. Now they might be completely wrong, but they do purport to offer facts and evidence for the truth of Christian claims. What gives you the right to dogmatically assert what counts as a “fact” or “evidence”?

    So much for humility, it would seem.

  6. #6 JonJ
    June 3, 2009

    Crandaddy: Religious people have indeed produced volumes of what *they* consider “rigorous defenses” of Christian and other religious doctrines, but whether they actually are “facts” or “evidence,” or “rigorous defenses,” is precisely the philosophical point at issue.

    Are there any things that could be called “facts” or “evidence” other than those recognized as such in science? I don’t think so, and as far as I know, no facts or evidence in the sense recognized by science substantiate the claim that some sort of supernatural divine being had anything to do with the evolution of species.

    The basic problem with so-called “religious evidence” is that it consists of beliefs that believers in a given religion *themselves* consider to be “factual evidence.” In other words, they are beliefs that the believers have talked themselves into believing. That, I think, is the basic issue.

  7. #7 Kevin
    June 4, 2009

    3. Humility. Science can’t prove a negative: Saying there is no God is saying more than we can ever really know empirically, or based on data and evidence. So why drive a wedge between religious and non-religious defenders of evolution when it is not even possible to definitively prove the former wrong about metaphysics?

    I can play this too:

    3. Humility. The church has not to date, and quite obviously can’t ever prove a positive: Saying there is a God is saying more than we really know empirically, or based on data and evidence. So why drive a wedge between religious and non-religious defenders of evolution when it has not been proven, or even suggested by the merest of evidence, that the latter is wrong about metaphysics?

    -kevin

  8. #8 Crandaddy
    June 4, 2009

    JonJ,

    What they consider to be “facts” and “evidence” (or “rigorous defenses,” whatever you like) is the point at stake here.

    Remember that Jason is leveling a moral charge against JPII, not a charge of argumentative falsehood; therefore, intent is everything.

    The relevant passage from Jason’s “translation” is this:

    And we don’t have to defend our ideas with facts or evidence or anything of that sort. [emphasis mine]

    The implication is that JPII arrogantly dismisses altogether anything that even might be considered “facts” or “evidence”–Whether or not they count as “real” facts or evidence is beside the point–as completely unnecessary. But in addition to the complete absence of anything whatsoever in the JPII quote to this effect, centuries of well-documented Christian thought are more than sufficient evidence to flatly refute this assertion.

    There is absolutely nothing either in the JPII quote or anywhere else to offer the slightest support to Jason’s audacious (and dare I say arrogant) claim.

  9. #9 Richard Wein
    June 4, 2009

    As I see it the problem has been that “accommodationists” have spent too much time criticising “anti-accommodationists” for their language and for the effects of their arguments, and far too little addressing the arguments themselves. The criticism therefore comes across as “never mind whether your arguments are valid, you should refrain from making them in the interests of promoting evolution education”.

    I suggest the reason why anti-accommodationists have not had much to say about the substance of the arguments is because they have no good counter-arguments.

  10. #10 Valhar2000
    June 4, 2009

    #9: An implied assumption in much of “accomodationist” rhetoric is that the people we should be courting are too weak to handle the arguments, wether or not they are correct. Mooney, Nisbet and others agree with a lot of “new atheist” positions, but they just don’t want any of those poor delicate christians to know because they might have a nervous breakdown.

  11. #11 Valhar2000
    June 4, 2009

    #8:

    There is absolutely nothing either in the JPII quote or anywhere else to offer the slightest support to Jason’s audacious (and dare I say arrogant) claim.

    Really?

    Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man.

    It could not have been clearer if it had been written in a 10 foot tall neon sign.

  12. #12 Matt Penfold
    June 4, 2009

    An implied assumption in much of “accomodationist” rhetoric is that the people we should be courting are too weak to handle the arguments, wether or not they are correct. Mooney, Nisbet and others agree with a lot of “new atheist” positions, but they just don’t want any of those poor delicate christians to know because they might have a nervous breakdown.

    You have this spot on. In addition there is an implied assumption that being critical of religion means that it is then not possible to work alongside those you have criticised. One only needs to look at how Richard Dawkins has been able to find common cause with religious leaders in the UK, over attempts to have creationism taught in a state funded school, to realise the error in that assumption.

  13. #13 James McGrath
    June 4, 2009

    As a Liberal Christian who has been a vocal opponent of young-earth creationists, cdesign proponentsists and other pseudoscientific movements both on my blog and in the classroom, I can only respond as follows: “Huh?!”

    The point of emphasizing the compatibility of religious beliefs and science doesn’t have anything to do with Liberal Christians, except to the extent that Liberal Christians are usually people who embrace the findings of the natural sciences. We are well aware that there is a lot of traditional Christian theology that has to be revised in light of our contemporary scientific understanding, and that there are things that must simply be discarded. That’s what being a Liberal Christian is about. We completely accept the point that modern science makes some religious views untenable, and if we do not consistently follow through in abandoning outmoded ways of thinking, it is because of our human shortcomings and not because we are not committed to doing so.

    What concerns Christians like me when the rhetoric of incompatibility is used is the effect it has on those who are not (yet) committed to a form of faith that will allow them to embrace science and reject theological ideas incompatible with the current state of human knowledge. Such people frequently accept of reject things on the basis of an emotional reaction and core moral values rather than evidence. And those who use language that suggests “Evolution shows that our existence is meaningless and everything is random, humans are bundles of chemicals and all our choices and artistic creation is determined by the laws of physics” (a caricature, to be sure, but a recognizable one) are giving the impression to Christians who are not Liberal that they must choose between valuing human beings and leading meaningful lives on the one hand, or the acceptance of modern scientific findings on the other.

    But I must be honest that I find this post somewhat baffling. I don’t see how Miller and others are doing what you accuse them of. Does Miller mention God in his articles in biology journals? He is not imposing his religious views or forcing anyone in the realm of biology to accept them. His role is an apologist for science and an educator. And he’s learned (as have many educators) that learning is a process. And by suggesting that revising one’s theology has to happen from the outset, rather than after many years of first coming to grips with the relevant scientific (not to mention theological) arguments and evidence, seems not only false, but poor pedagogy.

    What troubles me about

  14. #14 James McGrath
    June 4, 2009

    Sorry about that stray fragment at the end – I’m not sure what happened. Nothing else troubles me! :)

  15. #15 Captain Obvious
    June 4, 2009

    Mooney is wrong?

    I’m shocked!

    In my experience self professed communication experts can be relied on to do exactly one thing, slate everyone elses communication efforts. They’re like management process consultants, a parasitic profession that exists purely to perpetuate itself, an objective that is threatened if non-approved people start talking and thinking for themselves.

  16. #16 Matt Penfold
    June 4, 2009

    In my experience self professed communication experts can be relied on to do exactly one thing, slate everyone elses communication efforts.

    In fairness to Chris, it is Matt Nisbett who claims to be the comminications expert. Chris also seems to have given up on framing, at least he has said that framing in not something he has any interest in pursuing anymore. I get the impression he and Nisbett may have has a falling out.

  17. #17 KeithB
    June 4, 2009

    “The whole thing is reminiscent of that Jerome Bixby short story “It’s a Good Life” (later made into a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone). ”

    OT: And most recently made into an 8 year run of the previous presidential administration. 8^)

    And that would be *2* episodes of the Twilight Zone. They ran a pretty good version in one of the recent re-boots that brought some closure to the story – which takes the horror out, so I guess I am getting sentimental.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 4, 2009

    James McGrath –

    I was not criticizing Miller’s biology articles, of course. Nor was I accusing him of forcing anything on anyone. In an earlier post I even criticized the part of Coyne’s review where he described Miller as being a creationist.

    The fact remains that in both of his books Miller made specific arguments regarding his reconciliation of traditional Catholic teaching with evolution that I regard as very weak. He regards it as essentially certain that humans would evolve a second time, for example. In Finding Darwin’s God he makes arguments for why the savagery of evolution should not make us question the goodness of God. In both cases I thought his arguments were unconvincing, to put it politely.

    I don’t think Miller regards himself as a liberal Christian (liberal in the theological sense, not the political sense). He regards the Bible as the word of God and believes revelation can be a legitimate source of knowledge about the world. I think that both of those ideas are things society would be better off without.

    I “accused” Miller of making bad arguments and for trying to carve out a place in civil discourse for bad ideas about knowledge and authority. You might disagree with me, but if you have read his writing on this subject I think it is clear why I might see things that way. I’m baffled by your bafflement.

    Incidentally, I used the term “liberal Christian” because that’s the term Mooney used. I realize that it covers a lot of ground. We’ve previously discussed John Shelby Spong’s version of Christianity, which essentially has nothing supernatural in it and abandons all notions of the Bible being the inerrant word of God. There are forms of faith to which I have no objection whatsoever. But to the extent that religion means things like treating revelation as a reliable source of information about the world or ceding to religious clerics an authority they do not deserve I am opposed to the idea of trying to reconcile science and religion.

    I don’t worry so much about those people who are on the fence. After all, I think they are right to see evolution as destructive to traditional notions of meaning and purpose. I have little interest in moving them towards a more liberal sort of faith. I want to move them to a place where they see that they don’t need to have faith in highly dubious propositions about the world to find meaning in their lives. I might not be successful, but sometimes you have to call it the way you see it and let the chips fall where they may.

    The more immediate point of the post was that I’m a little tired of people like Mooney wringing their hands every time someone like Coyne expresses his opinion on this subject. You’re a liberal Christian, right? Did Coyne’s article make you even one whit more sympathetic to the religious right?

  19. #19 James McGrath
    June 4, 2009

    You (like Coyne) are entitled to your stated ideological goals. You wrote: “I want to move them to a place where they see that they don’t need to have faith in highly dubious propositions about the world to find meaning in their lives.” I agree. But some would go even further and object that our very language of finding meaning itself involves “faith in highly dubious propositions”, while others would point out that this stated aim has nothing more to do with biological research than emphasizing the compatibility of religion and science does.

    There are plenty of arguments about suffering, evolution and God that I’d probably find every bit as unpersuasive as you do. But that’s a matter of theology, not science. Suffering was a problem before modern evolutionary theory came on the scene, and the problem itself may have influenced Darwin’s thinking, while Ayala rightly points out that evolution makes room for a certain approach to theodicy that wasn’t available before that.

    At any rate, my only concern is to distingish strictly scientific matters from theological and philosophical ones.

  20. #20 Wes
    June 4, 2009

    I get the impression he and Nisbett may have has a falling out.

    Posted by: Matt Penfold | June 4, 2009 10:47 AM

    They certainly don’t seem to form the Hair Care Duo very often any more.

    My guess is that Mooney got tired of coming to Nisbet’s defense every time Nisbet said something idiotic and/or supercilious and pissed other people off (which was once every few weeks). One thing I never understood was why Mooney felt the need to circle wagons with Nisbet every time Nisbet posted something dumb on his blog. Why not just say, “Hey, Matt, you made your bed. Sleep in it.”

  21. #21 SLC
    June 4, 2009

    Re Ken Miller

    Based on Prof. Millers’ response to some questions posed t him in a recent presentation, I am beginning to catch a whiff of Deism in his philosophy these days.

    Re Wes

    Apparently, Mr. Mooneys’ sojourn in Los Angeles some 3000 miles away from Prof. Nisbet has done him some good.

  22. #22 Crandaddy
    June 4, 2009

    Valhar2000,

    He simply notes that certain “theories of evolution” are incompatible with what he considers to be the “truth about man.”

    Nothing wrong with that, and nothing I wouldn’t do, myself.

    Jason appears to charge him with a sweeping, dogmatic non-evidentialism, which is about as manifestly false as anything could possibly be.

  23. #23 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 4, 2009

    James –

    I have no problem with distinguishing between science and theology, so long as calling something theological does not become an excuse for saying that it is beyond criticism, or does not have to be defended by evidence. If the Pope, for example, wants to state bluntly what is and is not the truth about man, he should have to tell us how he defends his assertions. He doesn’t get a pass simply by declaring that his views are theological.

    The problem of evil certainly was a problem even before Darwin, evolution gives it renewed force (as Phillip Kitcher argues very well in Living With Darwin). I did a post about Ayala’s approach to the problem in this post from a while ago. Suffice it to say that I don’t think Ayala offered anything to defuse the problem.

  24. #24 tomh
    June 4, 2009

    Crandaddy wrote: Jason appears to charge him with a sweeping, dogmatic non-evidentialism, which is about as manifestly false as anything could possibly be.

    Did you even read what this pope said? He made a sweeping, dogmatic statement about the “truth of man” without any attempt at providing evidence. Just a flat-out dogmatic assertion. Nothing false about what he was “charged” with at all.

  25. #25 Crandaddy
    June 4, 2009

    tomh,

    The Pope calls what he believes “truth.” I call what I believe “truth.” I should expect you to call what you believe “truth.” This doesn’t mean we divorce it from reason, but it does mean that we represent those things we believe as truth.

    He would have stepped over the line if he’d finalized the matter and cut off further discussion, but he doesn’t do that.

    I should add that whatever one asserts as truth he or she should also be prepared to rationally defend, but one is not necessarily obligated always and immediately to divulge a lengthy exposition for why something is referred to as “truth.”

  26. #26 James McGrath
    June 4, 2009

    I wholeheartedly agree that calling something “religion” or “theology” should not be a “get out of criticism free” card.

    I’m appreciative of both Ayala and Kitcher in their treatment of Darwin, evolution and theology. I posted reviews of their books and interactions with their ideas on my blog, and so I’ll simply share the links in case anyone is interested:

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/10/enlightenment-and-enlightenment.html

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/08/heart-of-matter-what-does-god-do.html

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/09/francisco-j-ayala.html

  27. #27 tomh
    June 5, 2009

    Crandaddy wrote: The Pope calls what he believes “truth.” I call what I believe “truth.” I should expect you to call what you believe “truth.” This doesn’t mean we divorce it from reason, but it does mean that we represent those things we believe as truth.

    Well, sure, as long as one redefines the word truth to mean, “whatever specious nonsense one chooses to believe.”

    Popes have been making baseless, unevidenced assertions for millennia and proclaiming them as “the truth”, just as this one did. That doesn’t make it so, though, it just makes them arrogant blowhards.

    To deny, as you did, that the Pope’s claims are anything but “sweeping, dogmatic non-evidentialism”, is beyond all reason.

  28. #28 Keith Douglas
    June 5, 2009

    Note that there’s another (somewhat implicit) science-religion conflict in what the pope says in those quotes. Namely over the nature of mind; elsewhere you will find conflict about related matters such as responsibility, freedom of the will, etc. Since even moderate religionists are usually psychoneural dualists, simply “accepting evolution” is not enough (even ignoring the fact that psychoneural dualism is incompatible with evolutionary biology, amongst other things).

  29. #29 Deen
    June 5, 2009

    Crandaddy wrote:

    The Pope calls what he believes “truth.” I call what I believe “truth.” I should expect you to call what you believe “truth.”

    Uhm, no. I (and I imagine many other people) know better than to refer to my beliefs as “truth”. I’d like to think that my beliefs are as close to the truth as I could get them within my limited time and resources, but I know I’ve been wrong before, and I know I’ll likely be wrong again.

    I should add that whatever one asserts as truth he or she should also be prepared to rationally defend, but one is not necessarily obligated always and immediately to divulge a lengthy exposition for why something is referred to as “truth.”

    I disagree. To assert that something is the truth, the unchanging, inerrant final truth, with absolute certainty, is such a strong claim that it needs very strong support. Quoting some church doctrine won’t do it.

    The point was, however, that statements asserting so much certainty, like the one from the Pope, certainly appear to lack humility. Even if the translation may have been a little unfair (for comedic effect), you can’t honestly deny that.

  30. #30 Philip H.
    June 5, 2009

    So, it’s come down to a truth war between Liberal Christians and Scientists has it? Really? Is there nothing else in the world for us to do today?

    Look, I’m one of those walking dichotomies you seem to want to dismiss, a practicing Christian, with liberal theology, who makes a living as a scientist. As such, while I have a lot of regard for the Creation story in Genesis, I don’t regard the Bible as God’s literal word. How could it be, since it was written by men who (like today’s authors) frame thier writing in terms that their contemporaries can understand.

    Leaving that aside, true Christians know that Jesus came to turn “God’s People” away from the errors of the Old Testament. And in so doing, He says plainly ” the past is finished an dgone, everything has become fresh and new.” So even the Creation story is supposed to be looked at skeptically, if one is really following His teachings.

    The problem arises in that most fundamentalist Christians (including the Creationists and ID’ers) rfuse to actually follow all the theachings, and instead focus on the Old Testament fire and brimstone. They do so because it offers a way to interpret their world.

    Science offers me a way to interpret my world, and I’m grateful for it. But i also think the Bible has important lessons for humans about how we should treat each other, what happens right here and now if we don’t, and how to really assess the actions of others. Those lessons are told in story form, to be sure, but since they seem to track lessons in many other sacred texts I think they do contain “truth.” They aren’t supposed to be empirical, anymore then any other allegory or analogy is provable.

    So how about we knock of the knocking of the beliefs of others, and concentrate on both making the world a better place, and increasing our understanding of how it works. To do both means sceince and religion still have a place at Earth’s table.

  31. #31 Tulse
    June 5, 2009

    So how about we knock of the knocking of the beliefs of others, and concentrate on both making the world a better place, and increasing our understanding of how it works.

    Arguably it is religious beliefs that make the world a worse place and inhibit our understand of how it works. At least that is what I believe — are you going to attack my deeply-held views?

  32. #32 tomh
    June 5, 2009

    Philip H. wrote: Leaving that aside, true Christians know that Jesus came to turn “God’s People” away from the errors of the Old Testament.

    Ah, so you speak for the true Christians. The problem is, of the thousands of types of Christians, most all of them claim to be the true Christians. Even those Fundamentalist, Old-Testament followers, who you call a problem, even they consider themselves to be true Christians. How am I supposed to know which are actually the true ones and which are the false ones? Because, actually, from the outside they all look pretty much the same.

  33. #33 Terry
    June 5, 2009

    How very odd. A bunch of predominantly atheist scientists, philosophers and journalists, all of whom seem to agree on the basic correctness of science in general and evolution in particular, putting words in the mouths of “liberal christians.”

    Mooney patronizes them by arguing that they need to be protected because they’ll get angry when they find out that science and the bible are not wholly in agreement.

    Rosenhouse insults them by comparing them to blackmailing kids who are holding science hostage due to their immaturity.

    Don’t you guys have a meeting of the Judean Popular People’s Front to attend? Or is that the PLFJ?

  34. #34 Crandaddy
    June 5, 2009

    tomh,

    “Non-evidentialism” means that one need have no basis in evidence or reason for what one believes, and this has never been the official position of the Church, as far as I know. It certainly is not the official position of the Church now.

    I’m sure you’re dead-set on calling anything in defense of Christian doctrine “specious nonsense” from “arrogant blowhards” regardless of whether you have any understanding of it or not, but you can’t say it’s not an honest attempt at rational defense unless you have internalized it to some depth and can rationally defend your assertion that it’s not.

    Deen,

    Uhm, no. I (and I imagine many other people) know better than to refer to my beliefs as “truth”. I’d like to think that my beliefs are as close to the truth as I could get them within my limited time and resources, but I know I’ve been wrong before, and I know I’ll likely be wrong again.

    We need to take context into consideration. The sentence after your quote of me is relevant: “This doesn’t mean we divorce it from reason, but it does mean that we represent those things we believe as truth.”

    When I believe something, I believe that it is true. Certainly, I should always be mindful that I might be mistaken. But just because I refer to something I believe as “true” or “the truth” does not necessarily mean that I’m being arrogant. Of course, one should always be careful when referring to what one believes as “truth,” but I don’t think the Pope was out of line here.

    I disagree. To assert that something is the truth, the unchanging, inerrant final truth, with absolute certainty, is such a strong claim that it needs very strong support. Quoting some church doctrine won’t do it.

    Okay. But doesn’t this presume that Church doctrine doesn’t provide such support? Don’t we need some support here? If what you’re saying is that one ought to have internalized and understood the reasons that one uses for justification of belief, rather than simply quote from a document, I agree.

    The point was, however, that statements asserting so much certainty, like the one from the Pope, certainly appear to lack humility. Even if the translation may have been a little unfair (for comedic effect), you can’t honestly deny that.

    Well, I don’t find Jason’s “translation” very funny, but I think I see what you mean. It would be arrogant if the implication were to assert a sort of superiority (intellectual or otherwise): something like, ”If you don’t believe like I do, then you’re clearly stupid.”

    But I don’t think all religious truth claims are of this sort. Indeed, I think the most profound of them presuppose a sort of divine revelation that bypasses cognitive ability. As with all truth claims, these ought to have a basis in reason, but their full profundity would be unintelligible to those to whom it has not been revealed. From this might derive some (perhaps not all) of the apparent arrogance you think you see. In such cases, I wouldn’t so much call it arrogance as zealousness or excitement which might lead to exaggerations of truth claims in some instances.

  35. #35 John Kwok
    June 5, 2009

    Jason,

    I heard Ken Miller speak here in New York City two weeks ago
    (It was a private talk for local alumni from our undergraduate alma mater.). He declared that those who espouse religious beliefs hostile to science should seriously reconsider their membership in a faith that is intolerant of science ASAP, and terminate that membership. Of course he also rejected Coyne’s criticism of NCSE as ridiculous.

    As for NCSE itself, I know that it does not have an official “accomodationist” view with respect to religion and science. How do I know this? I asked them.

    To conclude, I believe it has been an ample waste of a lot of people’s time arguing incessantly – and often most vehemently – as to whether or not organizations like NCSE, AAAS or NAS should be “acomodationists” to religion. From the perspective of someone who isn’t quite religious myself – I am a Deist – I think all that NCSE is telling religiously devout that it is “okay” to adhere to their particular faith(s) while still recognizing that evolution is valid science, simply because there are many religiously devout scientists and theologians who do accept evolution as valid science.

    Sincerely yours,

    John

    P. S. Am sure you can surmise from the content of my remarks who I believe is right; Coyne or Mooney.

  36. #36 bobxxxx
    June 5, 2009

    Completely eradicating all religions from this planet is just as important as improving scientific literacy. So atheist scientists should not shut up. Instead they should be criticizing and ridiculing religious beliefs every chance they get.

  37. #37 tomh
    June 6, 2009

    Crandaddy wrote: “Non-evidentialism” means that one need have no basis in evidence or reason for what one believes, and this has never been the official position of the Church

    And yet it’s a perfect description of religion, official position or not. No evidence, just make baseless assertions and call it Truth.

    I’m sure you’re dead-set on calling anything in defense of Christian doctrine “specious nonsense” from “arrogant blowhards” regardless of whether you have any understanding of it or not,

    Fear not, I understand it perfectly. The only thing I’m dead-set on is dealing with reality. You seem to have no need of reality and prefer the fantasy of religion. To each his own.

  38. #38 eddie
    June 6, 2009

    Crandaddy @33 – “We need to take context into consideration”. The context being that he was the baby-fucking pope.
    Which part of ‘burning at the stake’ don’t you get?
    And Terry, Jason didn’t insult ‘liberal xians’ but he did accurately characterise Mooney’s patronising of them in his criticism of Coyne’s criticism of Miller’s latest piece of mendatious lntellectual pornography.

  39. #39 Eric D. Wilkinson
    June 8, 2009

    Jason,

    You REALLY need to see “Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0756683/). It was Bixby’s last script before he died in 1998 and not only deals with evolution vs. creationism, but disects christianity as a whole. It’s “12 Angry Men” meets “The Twilight Zone”.

  40. #40 film izle
    June 8, 2009

    Of course he also rejected Coyne’s criticism of NCSE as ridiculous.

    As for NCSE itself, I know that it does not have an official “accomodationist” view with respect to religion and science. How do I know this? I asked them.

    To conclude, I believe it has been

  41. #41 giyim
    June 8, 2009

    eline sağlık

  42. #42 DagoRed
    June 8, 2009

    Crandaddy wrote: The Pope calls what he believes “truth.” I call what I believe “truth.” I should expect you to call what you believe “truth.”

    I am sorry, this is so wrong! You are implying its okay to conflate the idea of “belief” with the idea of “truth”. That is among the most ignorant things I have ever read. They *are* very different concepts and you would benefit greatly to use them correctly. What the Pope stated above is clearly and entirely based on belief, but the Pope is stating it as truth — which is, hands down, an entirely arrogant thing to do.

    This doesn’t mean we divorce it from reason, but it does mean that we represent those things we believe as truth.

    No it doesn’t. If you reason your beliefs from a *premise* of evidence, your beliefs can actually establish truth (not always, but often enough). That’s what the scientific process allows us to do. If, on the other hand, you adopt a belief as your premise, and then apply only reason on top of that, no matter how eloquent you do this, all you achieve is a complex belief system. That is called theology. And if you would actually understood the difference between ‘belief’ and ‘truth’, you would realize that the former (science) leads to truth (occasionally), while the latter never does.

  43. #43 Crandaddy
    June 9, 2009

    DagoRed,

    By calling something I believe “truth” I mean simply to say that I believe it to be the truth, not the stronger claim that it is the truth absolutely and unquestionably. The Pope is stating his and the Catholic Church’s position on the issue of human evolution, and in so doing, he refers to it as “truth.” The cardinal sin would be the stronger truth claim–that is to shut off any avenue for questioning. But I don’t see that he does that. Simply because someone refers to something he believes as “truth” does not necessarily mean that he adopts the stronger stance.

    In the second part of your comment, you appear to be saying that the chief difference between science and theology is that the former has a basis in evidence, whereas the latter does not, and that evidence gives science the advantage of occasionally leading us to truth.

    But why do you think that theology is without evidence? Is it because you can’t see God? As far as I know, you can’t see protons either, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. God might be used as a theoretical postulate for why things are the way they are. For example, the universe exhibits regularity; events happen in predictable causal sequences. If this weren’t so, then there could be no such thing as science. Though they usually take it for granted, scientists operate under the assumption that the universe is an orderly, predictable system. As far as I can tell, the only explanation for this is God. The answer can’t come from science because, as I’ve said, regularity is an assumption for science, not a discovery.

    Moreover, science can tell you how your computer works, but it can’t tell you why it exists. Computers, along with everything else in the physical universe, are contingent beings. This means that their existence is not necessary. To see why, consider that we could compile a list describing everything that makes up a computer: components, structures, chemical compositions, atomic and subatomic particles, etc. We could even give it a particular place at a particular time: say, sitting on your desk at two o’clock on Tuesday. But from none of this can we demonstrate an actually existing thing. In philosophical jargon, we would say that its essence (what the thing is–its definition and all that that entails) is distinct from its existence (the actual existing of the essence).

    How might we resolve this problem? One way might be to postulate a necessary being whose essence is to exist. (This was the avenue taken by St. Thomas Aquinas.) But one problem with causal entailment from necessary beings is that contingent beings don’t result. Enter a necessary being with the attributes of personal agency (and hence choice of whether to create contingent beings or not)–God.

    These are just a couple of examples of problems rooted in observable, physical objects that science can’t answer but that theology might.

  44. #44 Iapetus
    June 9, 2009

    Crandaddy,

    “The Pope is stating his and the Catholic Church’s position on the issue of human evolution, and in so doing, he refers to it as “truth.” The cardinal sin would be the stronger truth claim–that is to shut off any avenue for questioning. But I don’t see that he does that.”

    Of course this is precisely what he does.

    Even if one would be blissfully unaware of the history of the Catholic Church and its Popes and would not know that the special place of humans courtesy of inter alia possessing an immaterial soul is one of the core, non-negotiable Catholic doctrines, reading the above qoute alone refutes your attempts at re-interpretation.

    Notice how he talks about something being “incompatible with the truth about man”. Not “incompatible with what I personally or the Catholic Church believe to be the truth about man”. Not “incompatible with what is our hypothesis concerning the truth about man”. It is plain and simple: Incompatible with The Truth about man. End of story. If you really believe that this proposition is open to revision, talk to a Catholic priest or theologian and see how far you get.

    “But why do you think that theology is without evidence? Is it because you can’t see God? As far as I know, you can’t see protons either, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. God might be used as a theoretical postulate for why things are the way they are.”

    Unfortunately, theoretical entities postulated in science, while frequently transcending direct experience and being only indirectly detectable, are integrated into theoretical systems of propositions which must have sufficient power of explanation and empirically prove themselves. Then, and only then, are they and the existence assumptions associated with them deemed acceptable.

    Please explain to me how this procedure works with the “theoretical construct” of your god. But I see that you apparently attempt to do this here:

    “For example, the universe exhibits regularity; events happen in predictable causal sequences. […] As far as I can tell, the only explanation for this is God. The answer can’t come from science because, as I’ve said, regularity is an assumption for science, not a discovery.”

    It always amazes me how people can be taken in by such flawed reasoning.

    For starters, what is the logical connection between the presence of order in the universe and your god? If reality were utterly chaotic and unpredictable, would it also suggest the existence of a deity? If not, why not?

    Second, why on earth do you think that positing your god qualifies as an explanation, let alone the only one? Here, let me give you an alternative: the order in the universe can be explained by postulating a committee of seven ontologically necessary, order-loving elves who collectively created it.

    Both hypotheses have exactly the same power of explanation and level of corroboration (i.e. none). Or to say the same thing in other words: the “conclusion” from the existence of the universe or its properties to a specific entity who must have created it is totally arbitrary. It does not accomplish what you want it to, since the very same procedure is available to everyone for deriving any kind of conclusion.

    “Moreover, science can tell you how your computer works, but it can’t tell you why it exists.”

    The problem is: even if that were true, theology falls at the same hurdle. If you can not recognize this, it is because you fail to see through the following, obvious fact: all that theology does is to arbitrarily postulate the existence of an entity which has explicitly been defined in such a way as to provide the desired “explanation”.

    “In philosophical jargon, we would say that its essence (what the thing is–its definition and all that that entails) is distinct from its existence (the actual existing of the essence).”

    Oh my, do you really want to go back all the way to Plato and Aristotle and resurrect an obscure concept like “essence”? Are you aware of the fact that essentialism is a distinct minority position among contemporary philosophers and why this is so?

    “But one problem with causal entailment from necessary beings is that contingent beings don’t result. Enter a necessary being with the attributes of personal agency (and hence choice of whether to create contingent beings or not)–God.”

    Huh? As phrased, this is one giant mess.

    What is “causal entailment from necessary beings” supposed to mean?

    We have discussed this before: even granting the postulate that there must be one or more necessary entity(ies) (which is certainly debatable), it might just as well be the universe (or multiverse) as a god.

    Furthermore, saying that “god created contingent beings” is not supported by the results of science, which strongly imply that human beings arose as the chance result of a completely a-teleological process. There might be room for a deistic god here (although its breathing space gets ever smaller the more we learn about Nature); however, an interventionist theistic deity actively creating or helping to create human beings is flatly at odds with science. And no amount of philosophical ruminating about “necessary” and “contingent” beings is going to change this.

    “These are just a couple of examples of problems rooted in observable, physical objects that science can’t answer but that theology might.”

    Only if you are satisfied with “solutions” that are completely arbitrary and have no explanatory power.

    Let’s be real here: the only reason why you find certain theological “explanations” convincing is that they cater to your specific beliefs. Exchange the word “Yahweh” for “Allah”, “Vishnu” or “Tezcatlipoca”, and the explanatory power, degree of corroboration and plausibility of said “explanations” remains the same. And yet, I suspect you would reject them. Why do you think that is?

  45. #45 Crandaddy
    June 10, 2009

    Iapetus,

    What I see in the Pope’s remarks is insufficient to accuse him of wrongdoing in my view. See the end of my reply to Deen on exaggerating truth claims. That might apply in this case.

    It always amazes me how people can be taken in by such flawed reasoning.

    From an expert, I assume?

    For starters, what is the logical connection between the presence of order in the universe and your god? If reality were utterly chaotic and unpredictable, would it also suggest the existence of a deity? If not, why not?

    Minds create order, and God is a mind who controls the course of nature. Simple.

    Please explain to me how you account for the regularity of nature. But I see that you apparently attempt to do this here:

    [T]he order in the universe can be explained by postulating a committee of seven ontologically necessary, order-loving elves who collectively created it.

    Two words: Ockham’s Razor.

    What is “causal entailment from necessary beings” supposed to mean?

    For a being B to be necessary, all it’s constituent properties have to exist necessarily. If B is causally sufficient for some being Y, then it includes the property *causing Y*. Since B is necessary, it includes the property *causing Y* necessarily. This confers necessity on the effected being Y.

    Because of this, if we start with a necessary being, we never arrive at a contingent being by following a course of direct causal entailment. The only way we seem to be able to make a bridge is if we say our necessary being has properties of personal agency; this means basically that it has mental properties and free will to create.

    [E]ven granting the postulate that there must be one or more necessary entity(ies) (which is certainly debatable), it might just as well be the universe (or multiverse) as a god.

    I think you should have paid more attention to my distinction between essence and existence. How is a universe (or multiverse) different in the relevant respect from any of the physical objects it contains?

    Furthermore, saying that “god created contingent beings” is not supported by the results of science, which strongly imply that human beings arose as the chance result of a completely a-teleological process.

    Lemme guess. You scanned through that section, picked out an antiquated term to throw back in my face, and completely disregarded content. Here it is again without distracting words that were in vogue in the thirteenth century:

    Before you have science, you have to have physical stuff. But physical stuff does not have within itself the wherewithal to exist. What it is does not suffice to tell you that it is.

    This is every bit as much a problem today as it was in the days of Plato and Aristotle, and science is fundamentally helpless to answer it.

    Exchange the word “Yahweh” for “Allah”, “Vishnu” or “Tezcatlipoca”, and the explanatory power, degree of corroboration and plausibility of said “explanations” remains the same. And yet, I suspect you would reject them. Why do you think that is?

    “And this all men call God”– Thomas Aquinas

    How’s that for ecumenicism? And from a Dominican priest in the Middle Ages, no less! Why do you think that is?

  46. #46 Iapetus
    June 10, 2009

    Crandaddy,

    “What I see in the Pope’s remarks is insufficient to accuse him of wrongdoing in my view.”

    Then you are simply not reading what is plainly stated. Do you honestly believe that the Pope will grant the possibility of materialism being correct? That what he calls “spirit” does not exist?

    The belief that humans are special beings who possess an immaterial soul/spirit has been a cornerstone of Christianity since its inception. To suggest that one of its leading representatives would phrase it as a tentative hypothesis open to critical discussion and possible revision is hopelessly naive.

    “Minds create order, and God is a mind who controls the course of nature. Simple.”

    Yes, simple. And completely arbitrary.

    So let me repeat the question: if reality were utterly chaotic and unpredictable, would it also suggest the existence of a (chaotic and unpredictable) deity? If not, why not?

    Btw, what about chaotic/indeterminable/a-causal systems, of which we have discovered plenty in Nature? Are these design bugs? Oversights? Does god’s mind have an anarchic streak?

    “Two words: Ockham’s Razor.”

    Are you serious?

    Let’s see: the Christian god is postulated to be an omnipotent, omniscient, all-good, eternal, unfathomable mind. In other words, an entity that is as complicated as it can possibly get. And my puny, seven little elves, who possess neither of these attributes, are supposed to violate Ockham’s Razor more than this beast? I really do not think so.

    Moreover, Ockham’s Razor is not a rule of logic. We are talking about ontological necessity here. Since all of my seven elves are per definitionem ontologically necessary, there can not be less of them.

    “Because of this, if we start with a necessary being, we never arrive at a contingent being by following a course of direct causal entailment. The only way we seem to be able to make a bridge is if we say our necessary being has properties of personal agency; this means basically that it has mental properties and free will to create..”

    I am afraid that this line of reasoning does not work even within your own framework, as Leibniz already realized: if you bring in god’s motivation and free will, you have to answer the question as to why god chose to create the specific world we live in.

    Your answer is that he willed it freely. But why did he will to do it? Because he willed to. So he willed because he willed to will, and so on to infinity. In other words, the sufficient reason for his will to create must be outside of this series of free decisions; otherwise, you are stuck with an infinite regress. But what is this reason?

    However, the problem cuts even deeper. Suppose you could give a reason for god’s decision that avoids the infinite regress; said reason must be contingent, because if it were a necessary reason, according to your logic you would eliminate all contingencies again. The problem: by biting this bullet you have failed to give a sufficient, final reason for the existence of the universe, since your premises contain a contingent component. This is a structural flaw in all arguments from Ultimate Reasons (see below).

    “I think you should have paid more attention to my distinction between essence and existence. How is a universe (or multiverse) different in the relevant respect from any of the physical objects it contains?”

    I have told you before that I am not an essentialist. Thus, I reject your premise that entities have a metaphysical “essence”, let alone that said essence includes their existence and everything that follows from it. I furthermore reject the principle of sufficient reason that underlies your argumentation.

    However, it is not required to go into the details about this, since I can show why your concept is not viable even on its own terms.

    You are arguing that since everything within the universe (or multiverse) as well as the (multi-)universe itself is contingent and since everything must have a sufficient cause or reason for existing, said sufficient cause or reason can only be a necessary one, i.e. your god.

    But this would result in the collapse of every contingency, because only necessities, i.e. necessary truths and entities, have sufficient (i.e. final, necessarily true) reasons, which in turn can only be achieved by deduction from necessarily true premises. So there is no room for contingencies anymore. Or to say the same thing in other words: if there exists anything contingent at all, then there can not be a suffcient reason for everything, i.e. there must be some brute, inexplicable facts or entities.

    “This is every bit as much a problem today as it was in the days of Plato and Aristotle, and science is fundamentally helpless to answer it.”

    See above as to why your approach does not work.

    I would add that theology is equally unable to answer it. The difference is that while science freely admits its current limitations, theology arrogantly pretends to have an answer and tries to cover the arbitrariness of it.

    ““And this all men call God”– Thomas Aquinas

    How’s that for ecumenicism? And from a Dominican priest in the Middle Ages, no less! Why do you think that is?”

    Ecumenicism? Please.

    Let’s re-write the statement slightly:

    “And this all men call Zeus/The Great Mother/Baal.”

    Do you really think that Aquinas would have consented to this? Would you? And by “consent” I mean to accept not only the name of the deity and some of its attributes, but also all of its accompanying theology.

    The plain and simple truth is that Aquinas takes it as a matter of course that it can only be the Christian deity which is the subject of his five proofs, since his Christian faith is his starting point.

  47. #47 Crandaddy
    June 11, 2009

    Iapetus,

    I realize that there are core Church teachings, and to what extent it is justified in holding to those teachings is beside the point. Whether right or wrong, the Church has a long tradition of arguing reasons for why they hold to them, and it is in this sense that I say the Pope doesn’t close off questioning.

    So let me repeat the question: if reality were utterly chaotic and unpredictable, would it also suggest the existence of a (chaotic and unpredictable) deity? If not, why not?

    You appear to have the reasoning backwards. I’m not looking (back) at the world and judging what I see; I’m citing a reason for why I can expect the future to resemble the past. God can make the future as chaotic and unpredictable as he wants, but the only reason I can cite for why I should expect it to be orderly is that he would make it so.

    Btw, what about chaotic/indeterminable/a-causal systems, of which we have discovered plenty in Nature? Are these design bugs? Oversights? Does god’s mind have an anarchic streak?

    Am I expected to know the mind of God? Anyway, I don’t see how this applies to what I’m saying.

    And my puny, seven little elves, who possess neither of these attributes, are supposed to violate Ockham’s Razor more than this beast? I really do not think so.

    Why seven, and why elves? Why can’t just one mind order the cosmos, and why do they (presumably) have to have bodies, to say nothing of pointy ears and Phrygian caps? (By the way, I have similar difficulties with the Christian trinity.)

    Suppose you could give a reason for god’s decision that avoids the infinite regress; said reason must be contingent, because if it were a necessary reason, according to your logic you would eliminate all contingencies again.

    Yes, the reason would be contingent to some extent. Of course I realize that if you’re going to go from necessity to contingency, then at some point you have to put the two together. By “direct causal entailment,” I mean to imply a static entity whose very essence it would be to cause. Platonic realist theories seem to run into this problem. But of course, a personal agent is a dynamic entity and so cannot be necessary in absolutely every sense.

    Consider the fact that the set of all possible worlds necessarily exhausts the possible, even though the actually existing possible world seems very much contingent. Necessarily, however, one of those possible worlds must exist. Thus we seem to have contingency set within necessity. This would seem to suit a necessary being who knows the set of all possible worlds, yet chooses for one to actually exist, even though this might admit of some contingency in the choice.

    I have told you before that I am not an essentialist. Thus, I reject your premise that entities have a metaphysical “essence”, let alone that said essence includes their existence and everything that follows from it. I furthermore reject the principle of sufficient reason that underlies your argumentation.

    I’m not an essentialist, either, and I’m not committed to the principle of sufficient reason. But “essence” is one of the two terms used by philosophers to refer to what something is (the other being “quiddity”). And what I propose requires no metaphysical commitment beyond what I assume you already hold, namely that beings are susceptible to definitions.

    You are arguing that since everything within the universe (or multiverse) as well as the (multi-)universe itself is contingent and since everything must have a sufficient cause or reason for existing, said sufficient cause or reason can only be a necessary one, i.e. your god.

    No, I’m not so ambitious. Not here, anyway. You could say the contingent world just is, and that’s that, but my whole point is that this is as far as atheism will let you get, even though the problem of existence is staring us in the face, begging to be answered. The only permissible necessary beings would seem to be static and immutable, like Platonic Forms, and these won’t work.

    Do you really think that Aquinas would have consented to this? Would you? And by “consent” I mean to accept not only the name of the deity and some of its attributes, but also all of its accompanying theology.

    You know what I mean by ecumenicism, and you know what Aquinas means by his remark.

  48. #48 Iapetus
    June 11, 2009

    Crandaddy,

    “Whether right or wrong, the Church has a long tradition of arguing reasons for why they hold to them, and it is in this sense that I say the Pope doesn’t close off questioning.”

    While some form of natural theology might be still en vogue in the Catholic Church, the fact of the matter is that core dogmas were always declared “Truths of Faith” which did not need additional justification and were meant to be believed no matter what (prime example: the Trinity).

    Furthermore, if you read the context of the whole cited passage, it is more than obvious that the Pope is authoritatively declaring humans to have a soul/spirit created and injected into them by god; he is furthermore decreeing that any philosophy denying this is “incompatible with the truth about man”, i.e. false.

    How you can read into this a willingness to discuss the matter critically and possibly amend/discard his statement is beyond me.

    “You appear to have the reasoning backwards. I’m not looking (back) at the world and judging what I see; I’m citing a reason for why I can expect the future to resemble the past.”

    Well, you started off by postulating god as an explanation for why the universe is an orderly system, which we can only assume if we have past experience of said order/regularity.

    “God can make the future as chaotic and unpredictable as he wants, but the only reason I can cite for why I should expect it to be orderly is that he would make it so.”

    You do realize, I hope, that this does not look very convincing to people who do not already share your faith.

    On a wider note, this topic as well as your demand that reality needs a “reason” or “grounding” before we can be satisfied ties in with a notion I have encountered with virtually every theist I have talked to: the need for certainty.

    The thought that there may be things that just are without any reason (or, if such a reason exists, we may never find it) is troubling for you. Thus, you postulate a deity which is defined in such a way as to serve as an “explanation”, apparently without realizing the arbitrariness of this procedure.

    Moreover, if you demand a reason for anything and everything, you will inevitably run into a dead end, because the justificationist framework is inherently self-defeating. But I will not elabore further on this, since the posts are already long enough.

    “Am I expected to know the mind of God? Anyway, I don’t see how this applies to what I’m saying.”

    It is meant to show you the arbitrariness of your “conclusion”.

    You expect order in the universe because god’s mind is supposedly orderly. But there are large parts of reality that are not orderly and predictable. So by parity of reason, I could “conclude” with equal justification that god’s mind is predominantly chaotic and expect any residual order to disappear in the next second. And since you do not know the mind of god, what could you possibly say to dispute this?

    Thus, the same reasoning process leads to two contradictory “conclusions”; as we should expect, since the process as such is arbitrary.

    “Why seven, and why elves? Why can’t just one mind order the cosmos, and why do they (presumably) have to have bodies, to say nothing of pointy ears and Phrygian caps?”

    Welcome to my world…

    Why just one god (who is not really one but three, but nevermind…)? Why omnipotent, and not merely very/pretty/a little powerful? Why omniscient, and not merely highly/ordinarily intelligent? Why all-good, and not merely occasionally nice/mostly mean? Why a mind and a person?

    I could keep this up all day. Ultimately, all you can say in response is “Well, this is how god is defined.” To which I will reply: “Well, this is how my seven elves are defined.” And since both concepts are also defined as ontologically necessary and have the same level of explanatory power, it would seem we have reached an impasse here. What do we do now? Apparently all this defining and postulating does not really achieve what it is meant to achieve.

    “Yes, the reason would be contingent to some extent. Of course I realize that if you’re going to go from necessity to contingency, then at some point you have to put the two together. […] But of course, a personal agent is a dynamic entity and so cannot be necessary in absolutely every sense. […] This would seem to suit a necessary being who knows the set of all possible worlds, yet chooses for one to actually exist, even though this might admit of some contingency in the choice.”

    I have compiled the above quotes because I am not sure if you really understand the magnitude of the problem inherent in your approach. To repeat: it is structurally flawed, i.e. it consists of premises that are inconsistent.

    I do not have the time or energy at the moment to spell it out in syllogistic form, but you either have to drop your requirement that every contingency needs a sufficient reason and thus accept the existence of brute facts, or you will have to live with universal necessity.

    “I’m not an essentialist, either, and I’m not committed to the principle of sufficient reason.”

    If you reject the principle of sufficient reason, your whole argument for the existence of a necessary god collapses. Are you really sure that you mean what you say here?

    “But “essence” is one of the two terms used by philosophers to refer to what something is (the other being “quiddity”). And what I propose requires no metaphysical commitment beyond what I assume you already hold, namely that beings are susceptible to definitions.”

    As long as it remains clear that said defintions are merely a means of description for us and do not relate to some obscure, unchanging attributes that lie at the core of an entity, we have no problem. But if you water your definition of essence down that much, what use is it in your argument?

    “You could say the contingent world just is, and that’s that, but my whole point is that this is as far as atheism will let you get, even though the problem of existence is staring us in the face, begging to be answered.”

    Two points:

    1.) The answer from Ultimate Reasons you attempt here will not work. Generally, the process of simply postulating an entity that you have sufficiently defined beforehand to fulfill its function as the Ultimate Ground of Reality, while seemingly plausible and intuitively satisfying, will reveal its arbitrariness and lack of explanatory power if you step back and think about it.

    2.) As I said before, the demand to have a reason for everything is self-defeating. It merely serves to push the problem back one step again and again.

    “You know what I mean by ecumenicism, and you know what Aquinas means by his remark.”

    Come on. Aquinas used his five proofs to show the reasonableness of Christianity, not theism. And you do the same, unless you mean to tell me that when you use the term “God” you do not have a very specific deity in mind.

  49. #49 Crandaddy
    June 12, 2009

    Iapetus,

    Well, you started off by postulating god as an explanation for why the universe is an orderly system, which we can only assume if we have past experience of said order/regularity.

    But what we have observed to happen in the past does not suffice as a model for what will continue to happen in the future unless we assume the future will continue the pattern that has happened in the past. I have a reason for why I should expect this, and you don’t.

    So by parity of reason, I could “conclude” with equal justification that god’s mind is predominantly chaotic and expect any residual order to disappear in the next second. And since you do not know the mind of god, what could you possibly say to dispute this?

    Yes, you could. But this doesn’t bode very well for science (or your soundness of mind, for that matter).

    [Y]ou either have to drop your requirement that every contingency needs a sufficient reason and thus accept the existence of brute facts, or you will have to live with universal necessity.

    Okay, let’s back up. When I first brought up this issue in my comment to DagoRed, I called physical objects “contingent.” In fact, they might ultimately be necessary. I would say that this world is necessary if it is the best of all possible worlds, in which case God would choose to create it by virtue of its necessarily being the best. But by working from the ground up (i.e. starting with physical objects), I don’t think we can escape from their contingency due to the essence/existence distinction I cited.

    The whole business with causal entailment from necessary beings is meant to apply to those properties which exist necessarily in such beings, and I use it to attack the notion that non-personal entities might have caused a contingent existence. The property *being a personal agent* would be a property that exists necessarily in God, but being a personal agent necessarily entails the facility to choose between options, in which we might ground our contingency. And even though we might be left with some element of contingency, positing God as the creator of our world might gain us some degree of insight as to why the world exists and what it is to exist, whereas simply saying the world just is and that’s that gains us no ground whatsoever.

    If you reject the principle of sufficient reason, your whole argument for the existence of a necessary god collapses. Are you really sure that you mean what you say here?

    I’m not arguing for the existence of a necessary God from contingent existence. I’m trying to expose the problem of existence, itself and suggesting that God appears to give us an avenue of explanation that the alternative does not. My purpose for bringing up the (apparent) contingency of physical objects was to derive from it the problem of their existence. Unfortunately, my subsequent focus on necessity and contingency did not help to make this very clear.

    My initial citation of Thomas Aquinas in my comment to DagoRed was his proposal of God as a “necessary being whose essence is to exist.” The salient point here is not his necessity but that his “essence is to exist.” Necessity is a property that must first exist before a being can be necessary. According to Aquinas, God is existence, itself. Or to be more precise, he is the act of existence, pure and simple. Whenever we say of a being, necessary or not, ‘it is an existing thing,’ God is the principle of existence we assert by the copula, is.

    Disregard my talk of necessity and contingency; it’s a distracting side point. Suffice it to say, however, that I think I can have a necessary personal agent who contingently chooses to enact (i.e. give existence to) a particular possible world.

    But if you water your definition of essence down that much, what use is it in your argument?

    It suffices to show that what something is is insufficient to prove that it exists. It exposes the problem of existence. By abstracting essence off of existing things, we can see that the two are not the same.

    Come on. Aquinas used his five proofs to show the reasonableness of Christianity, not theism. And you do the same, unless you mean to tell me that when you use the term “God” you do not have a very specific deity in mind.

    Even if Christianity doesn’t pan out, the generic “God” addressed under a specific title might. Aquinas’ ultimate purpose was to argue for Christianity, true, but he understood that there are problems recognized by persons of multiple faiths who all addressed the same being under the title of the solution to those problems.

  50. #50 Iapetus
    June 13, 2009

    Crandaddy,

    “But what we have observed to happen in the past does not suffice as a model for what will continue to happen in the future unless we assume the future will continue the pattern that has happened in the past. I have a reason for why I should expect this, and you don’t.”

    Your “reason” is arbitrary and therefore useless, as I have tried to make you understand in my previous posts.

    On a wider note, the whole problem of induction, which you presumably refer to here and which you (unsuccessfully) try to solve by recourse to your god, does not bother me very much. The reason for this is that I think it was sufficiently addressed by Popper, Bartley, Miller and other critical rationalists.

    Science does not need to make any metaphysical assumptions concerning the immutability of natural processes. While it adopts the notion “Every natural event can be subsumed under some natural law.” as a methodological rule, it does not assume or presuppose it in any way. And as the realm of chance phenomena in the sub-atomic world has helped us see, probabilistic laws are the best that we can expect in certain domains.

    Thus, science does not need to contain any assumption which is not explicitly available for testing (though it will inevitably have consequences that cannot be tested, such as the presence of immutable, natural laws). Scientific hypotheses propose order for the world, but do not presuppose it.

    “Yes, you could. But this doesn’t bode very well for science (or your soundness of mind, for that matter).”

    See above as to why this is not so.

    And you do not really believe that saying: “I concede that my reasoning process leads to two contradictory conclusions; but I want science to work so I will pick the one which I believe enables this.” is an example of good argumentation, do you?

    “And even though we might be left with some element of contingency, positing God as the creator of our world might gain us some degree of insight as to why the world exists and what it is to exist, whereas simply saying the world just is and that’s that gains us no ground whatsoever.”

    It gains us the same degree of “insight” as my elven committee or any other concept I can concoct and postulate. Apparently you still do not realize the arbitrariness of your procedure.

    Concerning this “ground of existence” you keep demanding, I have told you before that it is an ultimately self-defeating and therefore futile endeavour. You arbitrarily terminate the potentially infinite chain of causes/reasons at a certain point by attaching the label “necessary” onto a specific entity and think you have explained something. Well, my seven elves have the same capability. So why do you reject them?

    “The salient point here is not his necessity but that his “essence is to exist.” […] According to Aquinas, God is existence, itself. […] Whenever we say of a being, necessary or not, ‘it is an existing thing,’ God is the principle of existence we assert by the copula, is.”

    Seems like you are rather fond of Aquinas (who is, unlike you (?) a full-blown essentialist) and his ruminations about “essence” and “existence”. Two points here:

    1. Even within his own framework there is a serious problem to claim that god’s essence and existence are the same: it suggests a confusion between the manner of being of individuals and universals. God’s essence is presumably of universal nature, while it is hard to see how his existence could be.

    2. More importantly, it rests on essentialist assumptions which I reject. The “essence” of an entity (or, as you want to phrase it: the definitions we use to characterize it) is merely an issue of our use of words. We use the same term on different occasions for pretty diverse occurrences which we believe to be manifestations of the same entity. But this is merely a linguistic simplification. Thus the “essence” of a specific entity (e.g. “Aquinas”) are those properties that would lead us, in case of their absence, to not use the name “Aquinas”. It is therefore a linguistic matter: a word can have an essence, but not an entity.

    Or to phrase it differently: “Aquinas” is an imaginary peg on which we hang bundles of processes, a collective name used to summarize. If one implies more than this, one designates something which is completely out of our realm of knowledge and thus not useful for expressing what we know.

    “Disregard my talk of necessity and contingency; it’s a distracting side point. Suffice it to say, however, that I think I can have a necessary personal agent who contingently chooses to enact (i.e. give existence to) a particular possible world.”

    Of course you can. Just as I can have a committee of necessary personal agents who contingently choose to enact a particular possible world. After all, this is why postulating can be so handy (and fun): apart from logical constraints, there are no limits to your creativity. Just do not pretend to have given a credible “explanation” thereby.

    Furthermore, the fact remains that you are still impaled on the horns of a dilemma:

    Either god chose to create our world for a contingent reason; then you have failed in what you set out to do, i.e. to provide a necessary ground for its existence.

    Or he created it necessarily. But then its existence is necessary, negating the starting point of your argument that its contingency needed explanation.

    Either way your argument fails.

    “It suffices to show that what something is is insufficient to prove that it exists. It exposes the problem of existence. By abstracting essence off of existing things, we can see that the two are not the same.”

    Well, the fact that “existence” is not an attribute of an entity is known from Kant at the latest and therefore not really groundbreaking news.

    Once again: the “problem” you think must be solved here

    a) can not be addressed by your approach from Ultimate Reasons, since you either have to allow for the existence of contingent, brute facts or accept universal necessity; and

    b) is self-defeating as every solution keeps pushing the problem back one step, unless you arbitrarily introduce a “necessary” entity to stop the regress.

    “Even if Christianity doesn’t pan out, the generic “God” addressed under a specific title might.”

    I am sure you are aware of the fact that Aquinas appropriated his Prime Mover argument from Aristotle; with the subtle difference, however, that Aristotle postulated a multitude of Prime Movers, not only one. But since the logic of the argument is identical and the reason why you find it compelling is not because you hope it lends credence to the Christian deity, I assume that you would be willing to accept Aristotle’s version?

  51. #51 Crandaddy
    June 14, 2009

    Iapetus,

    And you do not really believe that saying: “I concede that my reasoning process leads to two contradictory conclusions; but I want science to work so I will pick the one which I believe enables this.” is an example of good argumentation, do you?

    This is the inductive aspect of an argument from cognitive reliability. I think it can be expanded to all of our theoretical beliefs and thereby strengthened, but I won’t get into that. Suffice it to say, however, that I think having a reason (or being able to cite a cause) for why I should expect the future to resemble the past is preferable to not having one.

    Seems like you are rather fond of Aquinas (who is, unlike you (?) a full-blown essentialist) and his ruminations about “essence” and “existence”.

    Aquinas was not an essentialist. His metaphysics is radically existential. To him, everything centers on the esse, the act of being. God is pure esse, and non-divine substances are accounted for by their potencies, which limit their respective acts. Essence is only part of a Thomistic substance as a determination of the limited act.

    Or to phrase it differently: “Aquinas” is an imaginary peg on which we hang bundles of processes, a collective name used to summarize. If one implies more than this, one designates something which is completely out of our realm of knowledge and thus not useful for expressing what we know.

    Aquinas is either an existing being, or he’s not. Existence is the very first principle of the intellect. I think the Cartesian Cogito ergo sum shows this. Essence is an accidental property of a preexisting mind–contingently in the case of a contingent mind such as you or me but necessarily in the case of God, who is the knower of all possible worlds. (This is partly how we ground God’s necessity.)

    Either god chose to create our world for a contingent reason; then you have failed in what you set out to do, i.e. to provide a necessary ground for its existence.

    Or he created it necessarily. But then its existence is necessary, negating the starting point of your argument that its contingency needed explanation.

    I already told you that I’m not arguing from contingency to necessity. I know the problem it entails. This is whole reason why I turned it around with my argument above:

    For a being B to be necessary, all it’s constituent properties have to exist necessarily. If B is causally sufficient for some being Y, then it includes the property *causing Y*. Since B is necessary, it includes the property *causing Y* necessarily. This confers necessity on the effected being Y.

    I’m using this to argue against non-personal causes of contingent existence. A personal being would be different because it seems to be able to have properties in different modalities.

    God would be a necessary being with respect to some properties (e.g. being the principle of existence with respect to possible worlds), but he would be a contingent being in the above argument because he would possess at least one contingent property, namely *willfully creating the existing world*, which is a property he possesses only in the existing world.

    Well, the fact that “existence” is not an attribute of an entity is known from Kant at the latest and therefore not really groundbreaking news.

    No, it’s not an attribute. It’s not a further what determination. It’s the substantiation of attributes that makes the entity, itself. It’s the principle whereby we say of a being ’it is; it exists. If you can’t see what I’m talking about, I don’t know if I could make it any clearer.

    I am sure you are aware of the fact that Aquinas appropriated his Prime Mover argument from Aristotle; with the subtle difference, however, that Aristotle postulated a multitude of Prime Movers, not only one. But since the logic of the argument is identical and the reason why you find it compelling is not because you hope it lends credence to the Christian deity, I assume that you would be willing to accept Aristotle’s version?

    I would consider it. I do have some reservations that I won’t get into, but I wouldn’t reject it just because it isn’t Christian.

    More important obligations call my attention away from the discussion, so this will probably be my last comment. We’ve now completely abandoned the subject of the original post, anyway.

  52. #52 Iapetus
    June 15, 2009

    Crandaddy,

    “More important obligations call my attention away from the discussion, so this will probably be my last comment.”

    Very well. So I will give some final remarks.

    “This is the inductive aspect of an argument from cognitive reliability. I think it can be expanded to all of our theoretical beliefs and thereby strengthened, but I won’t get into that.”

    If you allude to reliabilism à la Plantinga, Alston et al. here, I think there are compelling arguments as to why this approach is seriously flawed. But this is another discussion.

    “Suffice it to say, however, that I think having a reason (or being able to cite a cause) for why I should expect the future to resemble the past is preferable to not having one.”

    Even if the reason is arbitrary, as yours is, and merely chosen over his equally justified sibling because you subjectively prefer its implications in comparison to the alternative? I am not convinced by this, and neither should you.

    Furthermore, as I already explained, science does not need to presuppose continuity or immutability of natural laws in order to function properly.

    Generally, having a “reason” (whether good or bad) for a belief does not help you to do determine whether said belief is true or false. Since the latter is the only thing we should be interested in, I do not see how your specific “reason” (even if it were a good one) concerning the resemblance of the past and the future could give you any kind of guarantee (or merely confidence) that your belief is actually true.

    “I already told you that I’m not arguing from contingency to necessity. […] I’m using this to argue against non-personal causes of contingent existence. A personal being would be different because it seems to be able to have properties in different modalities.”

    Look, I understand this. And I am not saying that it is logically impossible that a necessary being created our world for a contingent reason.

    What I am saying is that this approach does not achieve what you originally wanted it to achieve.

    Back in post no. 42 you used a computer as an example for an entity that does not exist necessarily, but contingently, and derived from this the demand that we have to explain why such a contingent thing exists. Your idea is to postulate a necessary entity which contingently decides to create contingent existents.

    However, this “solution” does not work because it fails to solve the problem. Although it mixes the terms “necessary” and “contingent”, it does not explain anything. If you declare god’s decision to create to be contingent, all you have achieved is to push the problem back one step: while we now have a “reason” for the contingent existence of the world, we lack such a reason for god’s decision. Thus, the general problem situation remains unchanged, i.e. we still need a reason for a contingency.

    You can not point at the world, saying: “Just look at all those contingent existents! We need to explain them, and atheism can not do it.” and then provide an “explanation” that rests on an unexplained contingency, namely god’s creation decision.

    There is an irreconcilable gap between contingency and necessity which renders your approach structurally untenable. No matter how you try to re-formulate it and play around with words, said deficit remains.

    The simple truth is that if there exists anything contingent, then there is not for everything a reason of some sort or other; or to phrase it differently, if there is any contingent existent at all, then there must be a brute, absolutely inexplicable contingent existent.

    Now, you might be inclined to answer along the lines of: “Well, at least I have some reason for why the world exists, which is better than nothing.”. But this would be a gross self-deception, because your “reason” is a) arbitrary and b) insufficient to solve the initial problem, since it was merely pushed into another area.

    Finally, it does not help you to try and focus on the “problem of existence” while disregarding the necessary/contingent issue. The simple reason is that if you demand an “reason” for existents, you will inevitably run into this issue.

  53. #53 balkan düğünü
    September 25, 2009

    thanks good article

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