Stranger Fruit

Weinberg on expertise

PZ provides a link to a review of The God Delusion by theoretical cosmologist Steven Weinberg and approvingly provides two quotes. I want to alter part of one of them a little:

Are we to conclude that opinions on matters of [evolutionary biology] are only to be expressed by experts, not mere [lawyers] or other common folk?

Many of us involved with fighting creationism have argued for years that expertise is important in scientific matters. That’s why lawyers like Phil Johnson need to demonstrate their knowledge of evolution before they are taken seriously. Any one can express an opinion, but to be taken seriously on a scientific issue, one must have engaged in serious study of the matter at hand. This, of course, also holds for non-scientific areas of study.

Weinberg is attempting to argue that Dawkins is entitled to voicing his opinion about religious matters, and indeed he is, just as I’m entitled to express my opinion about any matter. Unless Dawkins has demonstrated his knowledge of the subject at hand, one could argue that his opinion on religion is as valid as Johnson’s on evolution or mine on bridge building.

I’m making a general point about the need to demonstrate adequate knowledge of a field. Let’s not get into another discussion about whether Dawkins is right or not.

Comments

  1. #1 Clark Goble
    January 18, 2007

    I think the complaint is basically that philosophy gets no respect. (grin) That is folks can lumber in and talk about issues where there has been a ton of carefully written technical work over decades without considering it. It’s akin to someone coming in and writing on string theory without consulting all the papers on string theory over the past 20 years. Certainly one doesn’t have to be an expert, but when one demonstrates that one isn’t engaged with the material it is frustrating to experts.

    Don’t get me wrong, while I’m no atheist, I’m actually more sympathetic to Dawkins than many. (Such, ironically, Chris over at Mixing Memory) However from the little I’ve read by Dawkins he does appear to make theological and philosophical leaps without considering the literature. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. But it does say a lot about his methodology.

  2. #2 Matt Platte
    January 18, 2007

    Uh, no. It’s religion that gets no respect.
    I’m not a Trekkie; I can name only a few of the more popular characters and I’m unable to quote any of the dialog, but that doesn’t change the fact that Star Trek is a fictional story that’s shown on television. Why is this so difficult for people to accept? There are no Klingons. Get over it.

  3. #3 John Lynch
    January 18, 2007

    Let me see if I’ve got this correct, Matt.

    Religion is analogous to Star Trek. Therefore expertise in the philosophy of religion is analogous to that in ST and is thus not really expertise worth talking about.

  4. #4 Sean
    January 18, 2007

    Right after I read this thread, I saw this segment from last night’s Daily Show about a congressman who demonstrated a distinct lack of expertise while using a Star Trek analogy. I kid you not.

  5. #5 Siamang
    January 18, 2007

    But Dawkins is far more correct in his assessments of the level of evidence for God than most “experts” on theology.

    Dawkins has absolutely DEMONSTRATED that he has a deeper grasp of the issues of belief than most people I’ve met.

    He just doesn’t talk in the invented language of theologians and other invented languages.

    The guy isn’t fluent in christianese, he’s not conversant in philosophese, and I bet his modal logic is quite rusty. He perhaps couldn’t give a coherant mathematical counterproof to religious bayesians, of which there’s quite a gaggle.

    http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/07/why_i_hate_religious_bayesians.php

    What is Dawkins level of expertise? Better than many.

    He may or may not have the “right answer”, but he asks the right QUESTIONS about religion. Which is more than I can say for Godel, or the folks at the Discovery Institute either.

  6. #6 John Lynch
    January 18, 2007

    Dawkins has absolutely DEMONSTRATED that he has a deeper grasp of the issues of belief than most people I’ve met.

    I suggest you get out more often then. Perhaps a few classes in “philosophese” would help. Then you would figure out how to argue and DEMONSTRATE.

    What is Dawkins level of expertise? Better than many.

    I remain unconvinced.

  7. #7 Abbie
    January 18, 2007

    Religion is analogous to Star Trek. Therefore expertise in the philosophy of religion is analogous to that in ST and is thus not really expertise worth talking about.

    Makes sense to me. Dawkins attacks the root of the problem. The only arguments for God are philosophical ones. With any other claim, you have some sort of evidence to weigh. A starting point. But there is no direct evidence of God; the only way to prove the existence of God, or to explain anything about it, is through pure wordplay.
    I don’t care how many books of logic have been written about God; until someone gives me any real-world, plain-language evidence for the concept, I don’t see the need to consider them.

    Why is the Star Trek comparison ridiculous? Because we think Star Trek is fiction. No matter how many books you write about it, it will still be fiction.
    If you consider God fiction, no matter how many books you write about it, its still fiction.

    It really is unfortunate that so many great thinkers wasted their lives on such a futile endeavor; I think you just want to save them face.

  8. #8 Siamang
    January 18, 2007

    Perhaps a few classes in “philosophese” would help.

    This exchange has put me right off philosophy. I’ll stick to more tangible things.

    I am not impressed that Godel was able to express the Ontological argument in modal logic. I can express it in pig latin, it still leaks like a sieve.

    I’m not anti-intellectual. I am fascinated by science. I have a love of language and literature. But philosophy needs some peer-review or a good ol-fashioned enemy or something.

    I heard a joke once:

    What’s the second cheapest department on the college campus?
    Math department. They only need paper, pencils and erasers.

    What’s the cheapest?
    Philosophy. They only need paper and pencils.

  9. #9 Zarquon
    January 18, 2007

    Religion is analogous to Star Trek. Therefore expertise in the philosophy of religion is analogous to that in ST and is thus not really expertise worth talking about.

    By Jove, I think he’s got it!
    People keep asking guys like you where, once you remove the obsessive Trekkiness of the true believer (e.g. transubstantiation vs consubstantiation or Kirk vs Picard), what’s left? You never give an answer.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    January 18, 2007

    John,

    I don’t mean any disrespect by this comment, but you’ve been making a good deal of noise of Dawkins lack of understanding of religion and philosophy without actually pointing out where he’s gone wrong.

    When we talk about the lack of expertise IDCers have in the fields of evolutionary biology and, indeed, in some of the areas of computer science they crib terminology from to buttress their claims, I’ve always been of the impression that we’re not making arguments per se but are inferring causation as to why their arguments are so bad. Pointing out that P.J. and Dembski have no expertise in biology would be worth a damn if no one could show why their arguments are ridiculously vacuous.

    Eagleton, Orr, et al. have made quite a big deal about Dawkins lack of “understanding” without going into too much detail as to why his arguments are wrong. Giving the Courtier’s Reply equal status to pointing out the fact that IDCers have a profound lack of understanding neglects the fact that IDCers are demonstrably wrong, while most of Dawkins’ reviewers haven’t done much more than lament the fact that he dismisses theology as nonsense.

  11. #11 gengar
    January 18, 2007

    But here’s the problem I have: I’m perfectly happy for people to say ‘Dawkins makes argument x, which is theologically and philosophically naive, and this is why‘, but almost without exception, the criticisms miss off that last bit.

    That omission is the difference between a valid argument from authority (the authority demonstrates their expertise) and a falacious one.

  12. #12 Mark P
    January 18, 2007

    Actually, the Star Trek analogy is apt. Religion is made up. Star Trek is made up. There is no truth to it. People sit around and make this stuff up. Let’s all debate how many angels can stand on the head of a pin!

    Asking a scientist to become an expert in religion (what is that supposed to mean anyway?) before he says it’s all made up is simply absurd and ridiculous. And I mean ridiculous in the literal sense of being a fit subject for ridicule.

  13. #13 Sobex
    January 18, 2007

    “Let me see if I’ve got this correct, Matt.

    Religion is analogous to Star Trek. Therefore expertise in the philosophy of religion is analogous to that in ST and is thus not really expertise worth talking about.”

    This was not addressed to be but basically this is what I think. If you turned your statement around by substituting the word evolution for the word religion, I’m sure many people would be quick to provide concrete evidence to show that evidence is not fiction. Where is the equivalent evidence for religion’s ultimate claims? Until there is some … make that ANY, evidence for religion’s ultimate claims, why should I take any of their “sophisticated philosophical arguments” any more seriously than any arguments about the nature of the “Q Continuum” in Star Trek?

  14. #14 Sobex
    January 18, 2007

    In my comment above I meant to say “provide concrete evidence to show that evolution is not fiction.”

  15. #15 John Lynch
    January 18, 2007

    At the end of my original post, I said:

    I’m making a general point about the need to demonstrate adequate knowledge of a field. Let’s not get into another discussion about whether Dawkins is right or not.

    Many commenters seem to blindly want to continue on defending Dawkins as demonstrating expertise. Fair enough. But it is neither the discussion that I wanted when I posted this, nor – if past history tells us anything – a profitable discussion. So, I will keep silent.

  16. #16 Harold
    January 18, 2007

    Thanks for a sensible comment, John. Tyler and Gengar, Christopher Heard at Higgaion is blogging The God Delusion chapter by chapter and so far has offered numerous examples where Dawkins exposes his ignorance of what he’s writing about — and annoyingly, these are things (like God’s supposed omniscience and omnipotence) that are irrelevant side issues to the question of the God Hypothesis itself. A good editor would have made Dawkins’s good book much better — s/he would have either forced him to study more, or to eliminate snark that detracts from his main point.

  17. #17 GH
    January 18, 2007

    Therefore expertise in the philosophy of religion is analogous to that in ST and is thus not really expertise worth talking about.

    I think that is not a bad analogy.

    Mr. Lynch I think your stance on Dawkins and theology vs. those who present evolutionary biology as experts is flawed. One may be an expert at stating why a religion has this custom or that but that is far different from the evidences and methods presented by the experts in the field of science.

    The difference is a huge one and if you grouped 100 theologians together on any point you will likely get 100 different views because there is no evidence to discern whose view is correct. If you think only theologians can argue theology that seems to me naive’ as they have no evidence that what they are discussing actually exists let alone their stance is. Dawkins attacks the core and frankly he seems to have a very good grasp of theology although with 1000′s to choose it is unnecessary/impossible to slam them all.

    I often wonder why one thinks a theologian has any more to offer than a particular religions custums and practices. They certainly don’t have anything in the way of evidence.

  18. #18 Thony C.
    January 18, 2007

    I’m afraid your analogy limps in fact it doesn’t really have a leg to stand on. I’m quite surprised that you as a working scientist could even make the mistake of comparing any science with theology. I don’t really need to say the first part of this but for the sake of my argument I will.

    Any science has a current set of accepted theories on which those scientists within the field work. All theories have problems and it is to the solution to those problems that the scientists turn their attention. There also exists an accepted collection of tools and methods that he/she can use for this work. Occasionally someone finds a new theory that explains the whole field under consideration better than the previously accepted theory and after a suitable period of consideration and testing the new theory replaces the old. All of this is universally accepted within the discipline and can be taught/learned to/by newcomers to the field. This process is called acquiring competence. Sometimes there are two or more theories that compete for acceptance in a given field or discipline but there are also here accepted rules and methods (crucial experiments, higher predictive power, wider explanatory power etc.) to decide which theory is accepted. Let us now compare this with theology.

    For the sake of simplicity I shall only talk about Christianity and none of the other zillion religions that mankind has thought out to amuse itself. Theology consists of the interpretation of what is really meant by a confused, contradictory and historically wildly inaccurate book; “The Bible.” The first problem is that the theologians can’t even decide which writings belong in this book and which don’t. The second problem is that we don’t even have anything remotely like an original version of any of these writings. Next problem the theologians have no agreed methods, tools or approaches as to how one should go about this interpretation. The end result is that we have lots and lots of different groups; Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, The One True Church of the Seven Wonders of Saint John Coltrane etc. etc. etc. (the last one of course does not exist but you get my drift!) who all argue with each other, often to the death, as to whose interpretation is the “ONE TRUE MESSAGE OF GOD”!!

    Do you really want to put scientists on the same level as theologians and insist that only qualified (qualified according to whose definition??) theologians are allowed to comment on religion? I think any well educated person in our society is in a position to make a sensible judgement on religion without first acquiring a doctorate in divinity, a definition that I am fairly certain Richard Dawkins fills. I think however that if one wishes to make a judgement on any scientific theory, currently held to be the best in its field, then one should have at least a working knowledge of that field.

  19. #19 John Lynch
    January 18, 2007

    For the last time …. I am not talking about theology. I am talking about philosophy. Dawkins muddles the two and many people I have encountered here over the past month seem perversely dedicated to doing the same.

    As I said here:

    Theologians work from a set of foundational assumptions and attempt to rationalize their beliefs. On the other hand, philosophers of religion examine all assumptions and suppositions of any belief system. In other words, there are no ideas to be accepted on faith and PoR is rational thought about religious issues without a presumption of the existence of a deity or reliance on acts of faith. A sizable amount of modern PoR deals with epistemological issues such as the comparative place of evidentialism and fideism in religious claims, and the rationality of belief.

    If you want to argue that you need no expertise to do philosophy, then you are exposing your intellectual arrogance.

    And again, the issue here is expertise. In philosophy. Not “theology”. If Dawkins want to take down “theology”, more power to him. But frankly, that’s not intellectually interesting.

    (This is getting worse than arguing with creationists over what evolution is)

  20. #20 Macht
    January 18, 2007

    Seeing as how the things being discussed are better classified as philosophy of religion than theology, many of the points above about John’s analogy really are moot.

  21. #21 Macht
    January 18, 2007

    Umm, yeah, what John said.

  22. #22 gengar
    January 18, 2007

    That an interesting point about the mixing up of theology and philosophy – I’ll admit that I have trouble completely disentangling the two (there seems to be a fair amount of overlap in techniques, so I suppose it boils down to different starting premises?), but I also wonder whether theologians (deliberately or otherwise) make much of a distinction either.

    Harold – thanks for the suggestion.

  23. #23 Macht
    January 18, 2007

    Well, with people like Anselm, they were working in a time when there really wasn’t that much of a distinction between the two. But today there are plenty of philosophers of religion that aren’t really theologians. And there are plenty of atheist philosophers who specialize in the area of religion.

    Speaking of atheist philosophers of religion, this article by Quentin Smith seems germane to this whole discussion that has been going on. Smith made this seemingly prescient statement:

    “An extra problem with naturalist scientists is that they are so innocent of any understanding of the philosophy of religion that they do not even know that they are innocent of this understanding, as it witnessed by their popular writings on science and religion.”

  24. #24 Zarquon
    January 18, 2007

    “An extra problem with naturalist scientists is that they are so innocent of any understanding of the philosophy of religion that they do not even know that they are innocent of this understanding, as it witnessed by their popular writings on science and religion.”

    That is a textbook example of the ad hominem fallacy, it’s hardly germane. Again and again, people ask for it to be shown where atheists’ lack of knowledge of the philosophy of religion is leading them astray, and all the answers ignore the question. In India there are University departments for the study of astrology with “serious” scholars. But astrology is still crap.

  25. #25 Matt Platte
    January 18, 2007

    Ah, I see: I missed the original distinction between philosophy and religion. And philosophy of religion.

    Had I noticed that I probably wouldn’t have said anything. But now that I’ve stepped in it, I might as well soldier on.

    To answer the question, well yeah it’s okay to talk about religion just as it’s okay to talk about Star Trek. My point is that both are made-up stories. Actually collections of made-up stories by a variety of authors.

    As stories, either branch can be entertaining and enlightening. It starts to get weird, though, when your dentist’s office is 100% Star Trek as seen on the documentary film “Trekkies”. I like theme parks, so perhaps I would enjoy watching my dentist slap his sternum to communicate with the receptionist.

    The problem is when people get into character (think Borat) and are unwilling or unable to escape. The problem escalates when these people expect others to respect their fantasy and to play along.

    I’m ignorant when it comes to Philosophy of Religion. From where I sit, it appears to work like a security cop at the mall. In other words, does criticism of religion — any religion — have to pass through philosophy of religion before it will be considered valid? Or maybe it’s the other way round, where the really good criticisms of religion come from the philosophers of religion, kind of like how Gorbachev destroyed the Soviet Union in order to fix it?

    Would one need to attend MIT’s Philosophy of Star Trek to assert that Star Trek is intelligently designed fiction?

  26. #26 George
    January 18, 2007

    Each person has to be their own expert on the fantasy that goes on in the head when confronting the world.

    If my fantasy-recognition mechanism seems to be operating better than the Pope’s or Francis Collins’, I’m sure as hell going to take pride in that. I don’t need a Ph.D. in religion to be able to recognize mindless stupidity.

  27. #27 Mark P
    January 18, 2007

    I haven’t read the book yet, but I wasn’t aware that Dawkins had problems with philosophy. I thought it was just religion. But, by the way, philosophy is made up, too. It has no objective reality. Science does not deal with things that have no objective reality.

  28. #28 Zarquon
    January 18, 2007

    Upon reading up a bit, it looks like the former BJP government in India didn’t succeed in getting astrology into the universities. Sorry about the wrong info.

  29. #29 BRC
    January 18, 2007

    Ah John, you posed a really solid question, but then, why do you even broach it? My hunch at the top was that you’d get the replies above. Good hunch, turns out. Such defensiveness throughout, which always makes me skeptical. Ben

  30. #30 John Lynch
    January 18, 2007

    Ben,

    Thanks. I feel a little like one of those salmon trying to make it upstream against a raging current. :)

  31. #31 Pi Guy
    January 18, 2007

    I finished TGD a few weeks ago and don’t have my copy with me but, loosely paraphrased, rather than feign some expertise in theology or religion (and I’m not certain that they’re the same thing since we’re splitting hairs here), Dawkins or someone in power at his university, I think, actually questions whether theology – as opposed to, say, religious history or ancient literature – is even a subject suitable for academic inquiry. His defense is that nobody can become an expert in what is, essentially, a non-subject.

    Would we expect that one would need to be an “expert” in the field of astrology prior to critially examining and debunking it? I doubt it. It just seems so self-evident to most of us that it’s crap that we don’t even question it’s validity. Dawkins says in TGD, being an atheist is almost like being a Christian in that they neither believes in Zeus or Odin. He just goes one god further. To bastardize, most of us reject astrology. He, as do I, just goes one set-of-beliefs further.

  32. #32 JohnnieCanuck
    January 18, 2007

    John, can you perhaps explain how a grounding in PoR would have improved Dawkins’ arguments? What specifically does he fail to understand that is critical to his conclusions?

    Is such a grounding necessary before one tackles claims about an interventionist god like Jehovah/Jesus?

    I see you making much of the agnostic stance as the only true way. Yet any atheist will agree that should this possible god show up and offer proof, then the atheist must be willing to change his mind. Meanwhile agnostics make few if any choices based on that possible existance of a god. Most agnostics lead effectively atheist lives.

    I conclude that both sets of non-theists live as atheists and theoretically cannot rule out the possibility of finding evidence for a god. Therefore I lump them together.

    Are you sure that criticising Dawkins is necessary to keep Collins in the tent?

  33. #33 Kristjan Wager
    January 18, 2007

    I think that the comparision between knowledge of the fields is apt, when you talk about people attacking philosophy on philosophical grounds. However, the big difference between certain fields (like theology and philosophy) compared to others (say physics and biology) is that the framework is not set.

    An anology could be math – if someone defines a new mathematical system, then no matter how internaly consistent it is, it isn’t worth anything, unless it follows basic mathematical principles. You don’t have to be an expert on the new mathematical system to point that out. The same could be said of philosophy of religion – it might be internaly consistent, but if the basic premise fails, then it doesn’t matter.

    However, if you want to critisize specific points within the math system or within philosophy of religion, then it’s proper that you understand it properly.

  34. #34 John Farrell
    January 18, 2007

    John, can you perhaps explain how a grounding in PoR would have improved Dawkins’ arguments?

    Well at the very least, the non-theists who drubbed his book, such as Nagle, Eagleton and Orr, might have been more positive had Dawkins shown a little more willingness to familiarize himself with the arguments he was dismissing. It’s obvious to anyone reading these comments and those at PZ and elsewhere that those reviews stung. They should have.

    I suppose it’s a waste of time to point out, for example, that Dawkins couldn’t even describe Aquinas 5th argument correctly. It’s not an argument from Design, but an argument from Order (gubernatione). Five minutes chatting with one of his Oxford colleagues in the Philosophy Dept would have spared him (and his extremely thin skin) much embarrassment.

  35. #35 Robert O'Brien
    January 18, 2007

    Re: Dawkins’ The God Delusion [sic], I am reminded of something Augustus De Morgan once said (paraphrased):

    [Dawkins] is like the monkey who watched his master shaving and attempted to mimic him; he ended up slitting his throat in the attempt. Unlike the monkey, though, [Dawkins] continues on, proclaiming himself clean-shaven and the rest of the world hairy.

  36. #36 MattXIV
    January 18, 2007

    Since John isn’t going to elaborate, I’ll bring up an examples of places proponents of atheism with a primarily scientific background have glossed over relevant philosphical arguments. I haven’t read The God Delusion or that much of Dawkins’s other commentary on religion, so I can’t comment on his work specifically. The below example isn’t a specific criticism of anybody, but a demonstration the general phenomenon John is taking issue with.

    One thing that tends to be glossed over is the distinctions between different epistemological standards. Often, science is treated as the only epistemological standard that should be recognized, leading to the assumption that since science offers no positive evidence for theism, we should believe it’s not true. First, this assumes that science should be the primary epistemological standard, which needs to be justified since you can’t simply say that science is true because science says science is true. Normally, the placement of science as the primary epistemological standard is justifed by functionalism, but functionalism rests on assumptions about the existence of objective reality that can neither be refuted or proved. This is worth noting because some people have radically different epistemological standards, and hence don’t share a close enough idea of what is “truth” to have a meaningful discussion. For example, someone who rejects science because they believe that the strength of belief that an epistemological standard produces is what makes it capable of making statements about truth or is a functionalist who disagrees about the functional value of science would be incapable of coherently discussing specific truth claims with someone who makes science their primary epistemological standard. All of this is groundwork for being able to discuss what science says about the truth of a given proposition and when differences in this groundwork are present, they need to be addressed before appealing to science, otherwise the parties will simply talk past each other since they don’t agree on what constitutes evidence.

  37. #37 sir_russ
    January 18, 2007

    It’s important to note that while Dr. Dawkins may not be an expert on any specific Christianity – note that there are more than 23000 distinct Christian sects worldwide(from studies done at Princeton Theological Seminary) – anything he has to say on the subject must be at least as legitimate as any of the contrived theologies of the founders of any of those numerous Christian sects. When those said founders had disagreements with the local version of Christianity, what did they do? They simply opted to roll their own. This is perfectly permissible, since the world of supernaturalism has no standard of correctness.

    There exists no “Christian theology,” per se. In fact each unique variation of Christianity can be viewed as a statement of how every other variation has gotten it wrong. The Dawkins critiques of Christianity in The God Delusion are no less legitimate than say the implicit criticisms of other Christianities in the creative fabrications of Calvin, Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy. Dawkins chooses to point out the errors, irrationalities, contradictions, and general weirdnesses, but, unlike many others he also chooses not to use his criticisms to lay the foundation of yet another sectarian variation on Christianity.

    Beyond the do-it-yourself Christianities, in the US alone there are hundreds of New Age religions with their own peculiar theologies – a person just made them up – as well as many science fiction-based religions, the best known of which is Scientology. Want a new religion with a brand spankin’ new theology? Just make it up!

    If I don’t like chemistry or physics, I cannot simply make up new atomic theory or new gravitational theory and expect it to fit with the current body of accepted science. In the sciences all ideas are weighed against the standard of the natural world. But, in theology, literally at my own choosing, I can simply make up a new theology – it could be called Christian or since it’s mine I can just make up a new name too – and it will be every bit as legitimate as any other religious construct fabricated to date.

  38. #38 Clark Goble
    January 18, 2007

    To second John’s point, which has been iterated many times, the fundamental issue are the reasons. The logic by some here (when logic has been invoked at all) is roughly akin to “there are lots of answers therefore any answer is as good as an other since we can’t adjudicate them empirically.” Which is ridiculous if we’re talking arguments against a position or belief. When we’re talking argumentation then reason counts and the kinds of shortcuts folks here are mentioned are irrelevant.

    Dawkins isn’t simply saying, “there’s no public evidence for God therefore we shouldn’t believe in him.” Rather he’s making arguments against the reasons of various people who do believe in him. But for him to argue against their reason and do so within the framework of reason (i.e. philosophy) he has to do so in a responsible fashion. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. Often when he doesn’t it is because of a naivete of philosophy.

    Now one can ridicule philosophy, of course. Folks like Richard Feynman did that for years. Although typically when one does this one simply conducts philosophy in a crude and unexamined way. And, perhaps like theology, there are numerous philosophical methods and positions and there’s no empirical way of adjudicating between them. That doesn’t mean everything goes. One can conduct philosophy in a defensible way and then in an indefensible way. Typically, those most ignorant of philosophy who attempt to philosophize sound about on par with the quacks who attempt to revolutionize physics on sci.physics and type with all caps.

    Put an other way, consider mathematics. One could well argue that we all made mathematics up. (i.e. reject mathematical platonism) It doesn’t follow that there aren’t wrong answers on those math homework assignments you are assigned nor that anything goes in mathematics.

    Seriously the only thing worse than ignorance is relishing in ones ignorance.

  39. #39 Clark Goble
    January 18, 2007

    Kristjan Wager: However, the big difference between certain fields (like theology and philosophy) compared to others (say physics and biology) is that the framework is not set.

    I think that the point those of us appealing to philosophy are making is that this isn’t really true. Certainly there are, within philosophy, differences over what the frameworks are. Thus you’ll not get an analytic philosopher like Brian Leiter saying much nice about Jacques Derrida. But within the various avenues of philosophy there is quite a bit of agreement upon frameworks. The amount of philosophy done in terms of arguing for new frameworks is quite small. Certainly there is a bit of arguing about refining frameworks, but that happens in science all the time as well. (Witness fundamental theoretical physics)

    So if you are saying writing a book about the arguments of Donald Davidon’s philosophy there are quite restrictive things you can say about it and methods you can use to eck out the issues.

  40. #40 Siamang
    January 19, 2007

    Clark Goble wrote:Put an other way, consider mathematics. One could well argue that we all made mathematics up. (i.e. reject mathematical platonism) It doesn’t follow that there aren’t wrong answers on those math homework assignments you are assigned nor that anything goes in mathematics.

    I have a question then. I may have been led down a path of an unfair prejudgement about philosophy. I would appreciate enlightenment on this question:

    Can you name any philosophical argument or concept that has been discarded as wrong or disproven?

    In other words, is there a philosophical version of geocentrism or flat earth theory?

  41. #41 Thony C.
    January 19, 2007

    Not theology you dummy, philosophy! Oh dear now we have got real problems. Lock three philosophers with a problem in a room for an hour. You will have five opinions before they go in and fifteen when they come out. Philosophy what’s your flavour: rationalist, empiricist, idealist, realist, nominalist, idealist, positivist, nihilist, existentialist, phenomenology, constructivist…

    Philosophy of science anybody? Positivist, instrumentalist, Popperian, Kuhnian, Lakatosian, constructivist, Batesonsian holistic new-ager… anyone for Wittgenstein, Toulmin, Polanyi…

    Philosophy of religion!! God preserve us!

    Whilst I will grant that some of the basic tools used by philosophers such as argumentation theory and formal logic should be compulsory courses for all students of all disciplines, the problems I mentioned above concerning competence in theology are just as bad in philosophy.

    Going back to the original point of contention, the competence required to criticise proofs of the existence of god; philosophy of religion? I hardly think so, we are definitely in the realm of the theologians. Actually all that is required to criticise such proofs is a basic knowledge of argumentation theory and some elementary formal logic and I assume that even Richard Dawkins possesses those.

  42. #42 sir_russ
    January 19, 2007

    No one who has studied philosophy can deny that is a valuable endeavor from the standpoint of developing the learned skill of thinking. Study of formal logic, associated fallacies, and argumentation can build a solid foundation of generalizable thinking tools and processes. Delving into the various philosophical sub-disciplines – metaphysics, ethics, linguistics, epistemology, religion, politics, or science for example – often presents the student with the only formal exposure they will ever get to reasoning about those specific topic areas. In this regard, especially in a the developed world where the capacity to reason affords great personal dividends, philosophy needs no more endorsement than to say, “It teaches people to think clearly.” Personally, I see all thought as sub-disciplines of philosophy, including science and religion.

    That said, I’m convinced that the philosophy of religion – a rational approach to religious ideas, especially the nature of gods – is a complete waste of time and resources. Addressing the questions and concerns specific to this area of philosophy exemplifies the fool’s errand.

    What is god? What is the nature of god? Notice the need to become very sect specific in order to answer this. Not only that, but the nature of their god varies among members of a given sect, so the question can’t be addressed except in a very general way. Realistically, not very useful. So, a proof for the existence of a god is the proof of one person’s conception, not even applicable to an entire sect in general. Yes, philosophers will make a body of assumptions and then reason from there, but if the starting assumptions have low probability of being true, the chain of reason applied to them can be flawless and still quite useless. Reading Anselm, Aquinas and Augustine shows they had distinct conceptions of their god and so their reasoning concerning the personalities and powers of their gods would be distinct. Again, not very useful. Then, too, we could look at pantheism, monotheism, polytheism. Can these all be true?

    How would we know if a miracle occured? Have miracles ever occured? The philosopher’s definitions of miracles are quite varied and the laymen’s idea of miracle – I don’t understand, so it’s a miracle – is completely unaffected by the philosopher’s input. Do miracles only defy natural law? Is a personal transformation a miracle? Do god’s commissioning of acts of great evil constitute a miracle?(Maybe so, if your version of god is interventionist). The thought process might be a useful exercise, but will the result have any value? Do common folk catalog the philosopher’s thoughts on these topics, so they will be sure not to miss a miracle? Is the philosopher’s definition of miracle, whatever that might be, more important than the common man’s emotional need to comply with his religious social group’s de facto standard for miracles?

    Such a lot of effort going into gods and miracles, neither of which has ever been demonstrated to exist.

    I am sorry for belaboring the point, but I wanted to set the stage for a some specific questions. In the great scheme of things, does the philosophy of religion actually impact much of anything outside the halls of academia? Do churchgoing laymen, or for that matter even clergy, quiver with anticipation about the next latest greatest advance in the philosophy of religion? What would such an advance look like? More importantly, if the results have no general applicability, wherein lies the relevance of the discipline?

    I’m saddened to think that cumulatively mankind has easily spent billions of man-years poring over the same exact questions, getting the same exact inadequate answers, and, yet, due to tradition or authority, has been unable to freely consider the situation, observe that it leads nowhere, and redirect that most precious resource, one’s own thought, to more important, more relevant concerns.

  43. #43 Clark Goble
    January 19, 2007

    Siamang: Can you name any philosophical argument or concept that has been discarded as wrong or disproven?

    There are numerous ones. I don’t think Davidson’s project regarding Tarski truth conditions as fixing meaning worked, for example. I think Davidson’s famous swampman argument fails to establish the point it was attempting to. I think logical positivism has thoroughly been discarded. I think Popper’s rejection of induction as a basis for philosophy of science has been rejected. One can turn to Williamson’s well received recent book, Knowledge and Its Limits and I think most of the arguments have been proven faulty or at least in need of major revision. One could go on. The history of philosophy is, in large measure, the history of failed arguments. However often in the failure one can learn quite a bit.

    The problem is that for far too many (as this thread witnesses) philosophy is taken as equivalent to muddled thinking or religious thinking. Typically those making these claims demonstrate a great deal of ignorance of philosophy. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t see enough valuable in philosophy to pursue it.” It’s quite an other to say (independent of any actual argument) that philosophy is an anything goes endeavor with nothing to teach us.

    Regarding philosophy of religion, obviously if one doesn’t find religion of value then one won’t find philosophy of religion valuable. Duh. However if you are engaging in arguments over religion it is wise to know whether those arguments work. Now if you’re simply rejecting religion outright then of course that becomes pointless. Dawkin’s problem was that he didn’t simply give a few simple reasons to ignore religion. Rather he attempted to engage with it. You can’t on the one hand say philosophy of religion is pointless and then defend someone doing it poorly on the basis that it is pointless.

  44. #44 windy
    January 19, 2007

    I’m making a general point about the need to demonstrate adequate knowledge of a field.

    The knowledge/expertise called for by defenders of evolution on one hand, and critics of Dawkins on the other hand, are not the same kind.

    Eagleton infamously wrote: “Has [Dawkins] read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope?”

    In contrast, evolutionary biologists don’t say “You must read Darwin on this, Huxley on that, and Dobzhansky on whatnot, before we can have a serious discussion on evolution.” They say:

    “Here is a bunch of arguments and evidence for evolution. We’ll be happy to put them in layman’s terms for you. We beg you, if you plan to criticize evolution, familiarize yourself with the arguments before trotting out the same old canards a thousandth time”. Arguments, not specific authors. Which arguments for the existence of God did Dawkins miss or misunderstand?

  45. #45 J Daley
    January 19, 2007

    I dunno…this all strikes me as an extension of the Courtier’s Reply:

    “Mr Dawkins lacks any training in the Philosophy of Clotheology, and his ignorance regarding such works as Pant’s Critique of Pure Fashion or Le Haute Couture, not to mention Gabardine dualism (“the crotch is the seat of the pants”) is greatly apparent in Chapter 3. He should have consulted experts in the subject before dismissing it; otherwise, he’s the same as pleationists dismissing the Theory of Nudity without any training in nakedness.”

  46. #46 J Daley
    January 19, 2007

    Is the crotch the seat of the pants? I just reread that and it occurred to me that the crotch is in fact seperate from the seat. But then I realised that it’s a false dichotomy as they’re both woven from the same cloth.

    One thing this thread has done is inspired me to sit in on a couple Philosophy classes this semester, because I could use some brushing-up. That reminds me, however: I am taking a Philosophy of Physics class, and one of the first subjects broached was that of Zeno’s Paradoxes.

    Now, I am as lay as it gets regarding this. I’ve heard of them, and even remember puzzling over them when I was a kid, but that’s about it. But it took me about ten minutes to realize that Zeno was smoking copious amounts of the stickiest of the icky when he came up with this stuff. I’m not trained in this, and I only just got some books out of the library on it. But I can smell bullshit. I know it doesn’t take an infinite amount of journeys to take a finite one. At what point am I qualified to say so?

  47. #47 J Daley
    January 19, 2007

    Last post.

    To clarify – if it’s not already so – at what point is one qualified to disagree with a philosophy? Especially one that has built its axioms on sand?

  48. #48 windy
    January 19, 2007

    I dunno…this all strikes me as an extension of the Courtier’s Reply:

    I think the point is, are evolutionists using the Courtier’s Reply when replying to creationists? (if the CR is sort of like an argument from authority)

    If this were the case, we should stop being hypocrites and a) stop using this reply or b) decide that it’s a valid reply after all.

    But IMHO we aren’t using the Courtier’s reply, so there :)

  49. #49 Clark Goble
    January 19, 2007

    Wendy: Arguments, not specific authors. Which arguments for the existence of God did Dawkins miss or misunderstand?

    It seems to me that this misses the nature of the criticism. If one is simply demanding that Dawkins can write anything in criticism of ideas and arguments and it’s fine because clearly his opponents can’t provide an empirical pro-argument then something’s wrong.

    Consider this, say Dawkins makes a criticism of astrology but keeps talking about the 11 planets and says the force of gravity varies according to r^3. Even though one may think astrology is bunk, isn’t it fair to take Dawkins to task on the basis of the arguments he makes?

    Seriously, I don’t quite understand the reasoning done here. It really does remind me of Creationists who don’t seem to mind their poor arguments since they are right after all.

    If you are going to publish a book critiquing religion then it behooves you to get your opponents arguments right and understand the nature of the arguments you are making. You can’t simply defend it by saying it doesn’t matter since it’s all bunk anyway.

    There are two reasons for this. One, it’s intellectually dishonest and I think we deserve better. But second, if you want to do anything more than merely preach to the choir then you are going to have to make a more persuasive case. If religionists can simply look at Dawkins book and say, “he gets this, this and this wrong, and misses the point in these” then you’ve not really convinced too many people.

  50. #50 Clark Goble
    January 19, 2007

    Oh, I didn’t list specifics. The often mentioned one is the problem of evil. Dawkins brings up the holocaust while apparently ignorant of how religious thinkers deal with this. One can reject the answers these philosophers offer. But to simply discount it the way Dawkins does seems disingenuous.

    There are numerous others. Such as the purported logical contradiction between omniscience and omnipotence. I believe Higgaion is doing a chapter by chapter commentary on it.

  51. #51 Alex Leibowitz
    January 19, 2007

    I say, ‘X is philosophically unsophisticated’.

    You say, ‘Give me an example of where X makes a philosophical mistake.’

    I give an example.

    You say, ‘That isn’t a philosophical mistake.’

    How amusing! How entertaining!

  52. #52 Ale Leibowitz
    January 19, 2007

    J Daley –

    Of course there’s something wrong with Zeno’s argument! As with any paradoxical conclusion that arises out of intuitive premisses! As with skeptical arguments! That’s not the point. The point is figuring out how to avoid an impalatable conclusion without accepting impalatable premisses.

  53. #53 Jason
    January 19, 2007

    Clark Goble,

    Dawkins brings up the holocaust while apparently ignorant of how religious thinkers deal with this.

    They don’t “deal with” it. They mutter something about “free will,” acknowledge that it doesn’t really solve the problem, and ultimately end up declaring that nobody knows, it’s all a big mystery, and we just have to have faith that it all makes sense somehow in a way we cannot comprehend. That’s not “dealing with it,” it’s a wave of the hand. But it’s pretty much all theology has to show after 3,000 years of efforts to “solve” the problem of evil.

    There are numerous others. Such as the purported logical contradiction between omniscience and omnipotence. I believe Higgaion is doing a chapter by chapter commentary on it.

    Higgaion’s “resolution” of the contradiction pointed out by Dawkins consists of redefining the words to mean something other than their plain meaning. Not terribly persuasive.

  54. #54 Ale Leibowitz
    January 19, 2007

    Jason –

    Note my comment above. This is what Imre Lakatos called ‘monster-barring’ in his really excellent book, ‘Proofs and Refutations’.

  55. #55 J. J. Ramsey
    January 19, 2007

    Jason: “Higgaion’s ‘resolution’ of the contradiction pointed out by Dawkins consists of redefining the words to mean something other than their plain meaning.”

    Actually, what Higgaion did was point out that the terms omnipotence and omniscience often have been defined in other ways (and not for the reason of avoiding Dawkins’ supposed contradiction). “Omnipotence,” in particular, is often defined as the ability to do all logically possible things, rather than the power to make all sentences true. This torpedos Dawkins’ argument right there.

  56. #56 Jason
    January 19, 2007

    “Omnipotence,” in particular, is often defined as the ability to do all logically possible things, rather than the power to make all sentences true. This torpedos Dawkins’ argument right there.

    No it doesn’t. Dawkins’ argument does not assume that omnipotence includes the ability to do what is logically impossible.

  57. #57 windy
    January 19, 2007

    Oh, I didn’t list specifics. The often mentioned one is the problem of evil. Dawkins brings up the holocaust while apparently ignorant of how religious thinkers deal with this.

    Apparently there was a bit of a tiff between Dawkins and Richard Swinburne on Dawkins’s characterisation of his arguments. Is Swinburne not a religious thinker?
    Did or didn’t Dawkins in fact take a modern religious thinker to task on the problem of evil? Even if he botched Swinburne’s arguments completely, he was not ignorant of them.

  58. #58 J. J. Ramsey
    January 19, 2007

    Jason: “Dawkins’ argument does not assume that omnipotence includes the ability to do what is logically impossible.”

    Dawkins says that if God is omniscient, in the sense of knowing everything past, present, and future, then it would entail a contradiction–that is, be logically impossible–for God to change his mind. Dawkins then objects that God is not omnipotent because he can’t do the logically impossible task of changing his mind. It’s basically a variation on “Can God make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?”

  59. #59 windy
    January 19, 2007

    Just as an aside, I’m not really familiar with Swinburne’s arguments (unlike Dawkins seems to be), but this is the vilest thing I’ve read in a while:

    “Being allowed to suffer to make possible a great good is a privilege, even if the privilege is forced upon you.”

  60. #60 Jason
    January 19, 2007

    Dawkins says that if God is omniscient, in the sense of knowing everything past, present, and future, then it would entail a contradiction–that is, be logically impossible–for God to change his mind. Dawkins then objects that God is not omnipotent because he can’t do the logically impossible task of changing his mind

    Huh? You don’t seem to understand the argument. Either God can change his mind, in which case he cannot be omniscient, or he cannot change his mind, in which case he cannot be omnipotent. So God can either be omnipotent or omniscient, but not both. Nothing in this argument rests on the assumption that omnipotence includes the ability to do something that is logically impossible.

  61. #61 John Lynch
    January 19, 2007

    I’m going to regret this but the teacher in me made me do it …

    Either God can change his mind, in which case he cannot be omniscient, or he cannot change his mind, in which case he cannot be omnipotent.

    Nope. It is you who doesn’t get it. Omniscience merely implies knowing what will happen if a certain choice is made. It doesn’t place any restrictions on omnipotence (the ability to do anything).

    In the “problem of evil”, the tension is not caused by omniscience or omnipotence (as here), but because of the trait of omnibenevolence. The former two are compatible, despite what you (or Dawkins) think. Again, a situation where basic philosophy would have helped the understanding …

    (That said, this thread has devolved into the one thing I didn’t want. Yet another “discussion” of Dawkins.)

  62. #62 J. J. Ramsey
    January 19, 2007

    “That said, this thread has devolved into the one thing I didn’t want. Yet another ‘discussion’ of Dawkins.”

    Sorry about that. :( I know I’m not helping.

    Trouble is, I’m not sure there is really a way to keep the thread from devolving that way. If Dawkins really had demonstrated his knowledge of the subject at hand, Weinberg would likely not have written the things that you quoted in your post.

  63. #63 Thony C.
    January 20, 2007

    “This is what Imre Lakatos called ‘monster-barring’ in his really excellent book, ‘Proofs and Refutations’.”

    Truely, truely excellent.

  64. #64 Jason
    January 20, 2007

    John Lynch,

    Omniscience merely implies knowing what will happen if a certain choice is made.

    No it doesn’t. Omniscience means knowledge of everything. If God doesn’t know what the choice will be, he cannot be omniscient. You don’t get to resolve the contradiction by redefining “omniscience” to restrict God’s knowledge.

  65. #65 Mike
    January 20, 2007

    John,

    Do you have a recommendation for a popular treatment that “demonstrate[s] adequate knowledge of a field” concerning skepticism about claims of the existence of gods?

    I just finished Gale’s “On the Nature and Existence of God” and I don’t think it qualified as popular, plus it made my head hurt :).

  66. #66 Thony C.
    January 20, 2007

    “Typically those making these claims demonstrate a great deal of ignorance of philosophy.”

    Unfortunately Clark I am going to have to accuse you of demonstrating at least a significant modicum of ignorance in the philosophy of science. I know this is somewhat of topic but I can’t sleep peacefully until I have corrected one of your failures.

    “I think Popper’s rejection of induction as a basis for philosophy of science has been rejected.”

    Popper never rejected induction as a basis for the philosophy of science. David Hume showed (proved?!) that knowledge can not be obtained through induction thereby pulling the rug out from under the empiricists. The philosophy of science since then has consisted of attempts to circumnavigate “Hume’s Problem”. Because Hume had shown that there is no such thing as inductive truth in science Popper suggested that falsification be taken as the demarcation criterion for scientific theories. That which cannot be falsified is not science. He was certainly not the first philosopher to make this suggestion. In the 16th century Christoph Clavius the Jesuit mathematician, astronomer and theologian had already said that scientific theories cannot be proved but only falsified. As far as I know, I am however not omniscient, nobody has changed anything on this fundamental awareness and Popper’s demarcation theory is generally accepted by scientists and philosophers of science. Other aspects of the philosophy of science are however today considered more important and more interesting.

  67. #67 Mike
    January 20, 2007

    “Omniscience merely implies knowing what will happen if a certain choice is made. It doesn’t place any restrictions on omnipotence (the ability to do anything).”

    I am confused by this. Regardless of its relationship to omnipotence or what Dawkin’s may or may not think, what choices are you talking about?:

    God: I am omniscient.
    Me: Do you know what will happen if it is a Thursday?
    God: Yes.

    God: I am omniscient.
    Me: Do you know what will happen if a meteor hits the Earth on a Thursday?
    God: Yes.

    God: I am omniscient.
    Me: Do you know what will happen if Phil the Aardvark chooses to eat a cucumber rather than ants on Thursday right before a meteor hits the Earth?
    God: No, but that is not a limitation on my omniscience.

    Is that the type of omniscience that any theist attributes to God? Or maybe it is only the choices of a certain other species of mammal that would have that sort of effect on God’s omniscience, which would seem to require demonstrating something that that species has evolved (or was specially created with … boo) that makes it different.

  68. #68 Alex Leibowitz
    January 20, 2007

    Mike –

    I think the discussion re: omniscience points to something far more interesting than Dawkin’s claim that God doesn’t exist, and that is whether a being such as we conceive God to be *could* exist.

    It is one thing, after all, to claim that Christian doctrine is false — another entirely to claim that it is impossible.

    I tend to think that theism is false but not impossible myself.

  69. #69 sir_russ
    January 20, 2007

    I’m going to regret this but the teacher in me made me do it …

    Either God can change his mind, in which case he cannot be omniscient, or he cannot change his mind, in which case he cannot be omnipotent.

    Nope. It is you who doesn’t get it. Omniscience merely implies knowing what will happen if a certain choice is made. It doesn’t place any restrictions on omnipotence (the ability to do anything).

    In the “problem of evil”, the tension is not caused by omniscience or omnipotence (as here), but because of the trait of omnibenevolence. The former two are compatible, despite what you (or Dawkins) think. Again, a situation where basic philosophy would have helped the understanding …

    (That said, this thread has devolved into the one thing I didn’t want. Yet another “discussion” of Dawkins.)

    Posted by: John Lynch | January 19, 2007 10:51 PM

    In the following, please don’t take offense. I try to strongly make a point, but I don’t mean to insult. When I plug in my own name where appropriate, I’m not bothered, so I hope you won’t be either, if intellectual honesty is truly the word of the day.

    Mr. Lynch, there is a special irony in your arguing from your own authoritarian position about the definition of omniscience. When you feel the need to climb into your Philosophy of Religion pulpit and preach to those you apparently consider to be “Nope.-It-is-you-who-doesn’t-get-it” philosophically ignorant mortals, I hope you take into account one or more of the several definitions – note the plural – of omniscience below, I excerpted from online sites for your convenience. In the one citation alone, there are seven distinct definitions of omniscience. If your knowledge and understanding of the PoR, which is clearly quite emotionally dear to you, is, as you at least imply, vastly more complete than is Dawkins’ comprehension of the same, why do you commit the same intellectual crimes you ascribe to him.

    Your dismissive, “Omniscience merely implies knowing what will happen if a certain choice is made,” is, being as kind as I can be, a very rarely considered definition for omniscience in PoR, one which does not consider at all the de facto quite broad usage of the word in PoR, and one which speaks more deeply about the proclivities of its user than it does about how the term is applied in PoR. Those arguing from an informed PoR perspective, lay out precisely their working definition of omniscience to avoid confusion with the many other definitions of the word also used in PoR. Browsing of blogs where the blogger has a PhD in PoR, shows how diverse are the definitions for omniscience among those who most would consider informed. On one such site, another even broader definition than any shown below(remember this blogger has a PhD in PoR): omniscience is the ability to know anything whether logical, illogical, defined, undefined, knowable, or unknowable.

    When, or if, you read the following, I hope you see that your, “The former two are compatible, despite what you (or Dawkins) think. Again, a situation where basic philosophy would have helped the understanding …” is an egregious farce to those of us who have indeed studied PoR in great depth. Many professional philosophers – that is, those who are paid to teach it at the university level – agree with you and many disagree with you on this point(see excerpts below). Clearly, studying philosophy, or even being a professional, will not guarantee agreement on any specific point, will not make you “right” or “correct”, and certainly cannot rid – even the world of intellectuals – of the mistake of thinking that studying philosophy somehow elevates the nature of discourse to being, at worst, only infinitesimally different from the truth.

    Sadly, you seem to be contending that thought as practiced by philosophers, in general, and, in particular, of religion, is somehow fundamentally different than thought practiced by non-philosophers. It’s not. Thought is thought. It’s the same everywhere. Philosophy differs only in its potential, and mark my words it is potential only, for laser-like focus on a specific subject with very exacted starting assumptions. It is, broadly, the science of thinking. After one bashes through the often unintentionally obscuring albeit necessary jargon one finds that philosophy is applied thought.

    PoR is a subdiscipline of philosophy differing from other such subdisciplines only in the starting points, not in the tools and processes of thought, logic or argument. What are the starting points which delineate this distinction? In PoR, the starting points are theological claims from specific religious traditions. Like it or not, PoR is, without a doubt, theology. It might be more generalized, it might try to be completely objective, but, at its core, PoR is theology.

    Mr. Lynch, in an earlier post you stated,

    “I suggest you get out more often then. Perhaps a few classes in “philosophese” would help. Then you would figure out how to argue and DEMONSTRATE.”

    You would do well to take your own advice. Remember: “I’m making a general point about the need to demonstrate adequate knowledge of a field.”

    Another of the posters on this thread who thinks he is as nimble-footed on the steep elevated slopes of PoR, is John Farrell. He says,

    I suppose it’s a waste of time to point out, for example, that Dawkins couldn’t even describe Aquinas 5th argument correctly. It’s not an argument from Design, but an argument from Order (gubernatione). Five minutes chatting with one of his Oxford colleagues in the Philosophy Dept would have spared him (and his extremely thin skin) much embarrassment.
    Posted by: John Farrell | January 18, 2007 06:57 PM”

    [Note to self: was Aquinas a theologian or a PoR? This determines validity of claims.]

    Now, one would have to ask, how would a supremely intellectually lazy dolt as Dawkins get the impression that in PoR, Aquinas’ 5th Argument is an argument from design? Being the monumentally disreputable person that Farrell wants to make him out to be, he no doubt spent “Five minutes chatting with one of his Oxford colleagues in the Philosophy Dept.” You see, unbeknownst to Farrell, essentially every philosophy department in the developed world, treats Aquinas 5th Argument as an argument from design, however, being completely ignorant of this fact allows him to speak from a position of absolute certainty. Note:

    [Edited from http://www.iep.utm.edu/d/design.htm
    Design arguments are empirical arguments for God's existence. These arguments typically, though not always, proceed by identifying various empirical features of the world that constitute evidence of intelligent design and inferring God's existence as the best explanation for these features. Since the concepts of design and purpose are closely related, design arguments are also known as "teleological arguments," which incorporates "telos," the Greek word for "goal" or "purpose." Design arguments, then, typically consist of (1) a premise that asserts that the material universe exhibits some empirical property F; (2) a premise (or sub-argument) that asserts (or concludes) that F is persuasive evidence of intelligent design or purpose; and (3) a premise (or sub-argument) that asserts (or concludes) that the best or most probable explanation for the fact that the material universe exhibits F is that there exists an intelligent designer who intentionally brought it about that the material universe exists and exhibits F. There are a number of classic and contemporary versions of the argument:
    [------>] (1) Aquinas’s “fifth way’;[< -----] (2) the argument from simple analogy; (3) Paley’s watchmaker argument; (4) the argument from guided evolution; (5) the argument from irreducible biochemical complexity; (6) the argument from biological information; and (7) the fine-tuning argument.

    Table of Contents

    1. The Classical Versions of the Design Argument
    a. Scriptural Roots and Aquinas’s Fifth Way
    b. The Argument from Simple Analogy
    c. Paley’s Watchmaker Argument
    d. Guided Evolution

    1. The Classical Versions of the Design Argument

    a. Scriptural Roots and Aquinas’s Fifth Way

    The scriptures of each of the major classically theistic religions contain language that suggests that there is evidence of divine design in the world. Psalms 19:1 of the Old Testament, scripture to both Judaism and Christianity, states that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” Similarly, Romans 1:19-21 of the New Testament states:

    Perhaps the earliest philosophically rigorous version of the design argument owes to St. Thomas Aquinas. According to Aquinas’s Fifth Way:

    We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God

    Hmmm, perhaps Mr. Dawkins is not as intellectually dishonest as many here would like to have him construed. Perhaps, just perhaps, he, or some of the many others associated with the multi-year production of the The God Delusion, actually did do some fact checking. Understand this: every point in Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion has been made by others and many of those others have been experts – indeed veritable gods – of PoR. Dawkins is not the first to make any of the arguments he presented in his book, he is simply the first person in a long time who can’t be summarily dismissed with a wave of the hand, shouted down to avoid having others become aware, or executed to quell dissent and preserve religious ideals.

    I have discussed The God Delusion with many PhD PoR types, two of them my brothers, and they find little lacking in the way of argument. In fact, most don’t bother arguing against any specific claim. Most take cover under the “faith blanket” of their specific religious dogma: “Richard Dawkins is wrong because I wish and, thus, decree him to be so.” These are PoR PhD’s mind you. Of course, just as Mr. Lynch did with his preferred definition of the word “omniscient,” anyone can “prove” Dawkins wrong by resorting to the “Dawkins didn’t use my definition” defense. They can skim Summa Theologica, the Catholic Encyclopedia, or the best of Billy Graham for a variation on an argument and claim, “See… Dawkins is being dishonest.” One could call it the “Combinatorial Argument Against All Proofs Disputing Religious Claims.” If someone disputes my religion, I redefine it with different arguments or definitions. It’s the mocking stuff of childhood playgrounds: “Nanna, nanna, nah, nah, you missed me.”

    I find it fascinating that several posters on this thread, including Mr. Lynch and Mr. Farrell, seem to think, and no doubt want others to think, that Dawkins, his pre-publication reviewers, and his editors, have conspired to mislead and misinform. Does it seem reasonable that Dawkins or his alleged co-conspirators have no integrity, no reputation to concern themselves about? Does anyone seriously think that Dawkins holed himself up for a while hammered out “Religious Gobbledegook According to Dawkins” with no review process at all, and had it published by Houghton-Mifflin just as he wrote it as “The God Delusion?”

    Lynch and Farrell both exemplify the intellectual dishonesty, and laziness of which they accuse Dawkins. Dawkins does not claim to have addressed every possible variation of every definition and argument in theology(PoR, if you prefer). He took a set of common mainstream religious ideas – each of which will certainly have accrued numerous variations over the thousands of years that religions have been linguistically ducking, bobbing, and weaving – and, in the few hundred page framework of a book for a popular audience, made his case. Note that, right now, more than 1000 distinct gods are known to be actively worshipped on Earth, so no one could consider it all. With so much variability to draw on, Dawkins did what was intellectually honest, though: for each point he chose to consider, he laid out the basic audience-appropriate concepts and reasoned from there – just like philosophers(PoR, if you prefer), just like thinkers of every intellectual discipline – to arrive at his conclusions. Unfortunately, the profoundly important, societally and globally relevant issues he addresses, like “Are absolutist bronze age myths compatible with nuclear weaponry,” are all too often lost when the uninformed, or just intellectually lazy or dishonest, dismiss what he has to say because of their own abject ignorance or their not understanding that words often have multiple definitions.

    ————>
    From here to the end of the post are materials related to definitions of omniscience.

    Definitions of omniscience
    Philosophers of religion on omniscience

    [Edited from http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/omniscience.html
    Problems with Divine Omniscience

    Christian theists claim that God is omniscient, i.e. all-knowing. The doctrine of divine omniscience, though, faces several philosophical objections; there are a number of arguments in the philosophy of religion that purport to demonstrate that God cannot possibly know everything. These include arguments that the doctrine of divine omniscience is logically incoherent, that it is inconsistent with the further Christian doctrine of divine impeccability (i.e. the doctrine that God cannot sin), and that it is refuted by the fact of human freedom.

    If any of these arguments is successful, then the doctrine of divine omniscience as it is usually taught will require at least modification, and possibly abandonment. Further, if being omniscient were thought to be a part of what is involved in being God, then these arguments against the doctrine of divine omniscience might even constitute proofs of atheism, of the non-existence of God. Four problems with divine omniscience are worthy of mention.

    The first problem--the paradox of omniscience--is derived from Cantor's proof that there is no set of all sets. Omniscience, it is said, entails knowledge of the set of all truths. Cantor's proof, however, demonstrates that there is no such set. As there is no such set, it is argued, there can be no omniscient being.

    The second problem is the problem of experiential knowledge. Here the argument is that there are certain facts knowledge of which can only be acquired through certain experiences--knowledge of what it is like to sin, for instance, can only be acquired by sinning--and that some of these experiences, and so some of these items of knowledge, are such that they cannot be had by God.

    The third problem is that of reconciling freedom and foreknowledge, specifically the existence of divine foreknowledge with the existence of human freedom. If God knows all of our future actions, then the future is fixed, but if the future is fixed, it seems that there is nothing that we can do to change it. The ability to determine our future actions, though, is what constitutes human freedom. Divine foreknowledge, then, seems to preclude the possibility of our being free agents.

    The fourth problem is the problem of middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is knowledge of what free agents would have done had the world been other than it is. As the agents are free, their choice of action cannot be determined by the state of the world, and so cannot be calculated on that basis. As middle knowledge concerns counterfactual situations, however, neither can their choice of actions be known by observation of the future. With the two possible sources of knowledge ruled out, it seems that middle knowledge is an impossibility.

    [Edited from http://www.iep.utm.edu/o/omnisci.htm
    a. Non-comparative Analyses of Omniscience

    i. Having knowledge of all propositions

    In spite of an initial feeling of piety that might accompany embracing this definition, it should be rejected. Why? Recall what knowledge is. It requires at a minimum holding what is true. But some propositions are false such as 2+2=5. Since it is false it cannot be known by anyone, especially God who most think could not even believe something that is false let alone know it.

    ii. Having knowledge of all true propositions

    According to this clause, God knows a lot--in fact he knows all that could possibly be known. This is a very strong version of omniscience and in all likelihood has been the one most widely held among theists. On this interpretation, God knows all the present truths and all truths of the past and future. God also knows the propositions that must be true or are merely possibly true. For instance, God knows that "necessarily, all humans are not triangles" and "possibly, the Steelers sign a linebacker named Tristan this year." Furthermore, many who hold to this definition think that God knows all of the subjunctive propositions which are sometimes of events that are not actual but could have been as in the statement "if the U.S. had not entered World War II, Germany would have won."

    iii. Having knowledge of all true propositions and having no false beliefs

    Many have proposed (iii) instead of (ii) in order to make clear that an omniscient being not only believes all true propositions but is not mistaken about any beliefs either. But as Edward Wierenga has pointed out, adding this clause in (iii) is at least redundant and possibly incoherent (39) for it seems to presuppose it is possible that for someone to know all true propositions and yet have a false belief. Suppose that God could. If God knew all true propositions, he would know that he believed some false proposition. But it may not be coherent to both know p and know that you believe not-p.

    Yet even if this is coherent, says Wierenga, the additional clause about God not having false beliefs can be shown to be redundant. Presumably God has deductive cognitive faculties. Now if God both knows p and believes not-p, then God believes a contradiction, and anything whatsoever can be validly deduced from a contradiction. So if God did know p and believed not-p, God would deduce all propositions from this and believe everything. But this seems impossible. Thus there is no reason to add the additional clause "having no false beliefs" because knowing all true propositions seems to be incompatible with having false beliefs.

    b. Comparative Analyses of Omniscience

    i. Having knowledge which is not actually surpassed

    Although holding this definition is consistent with believing that God knows all true propositions, it leaves open the possibility that God does not know everything. Those that prefer this analysis of omniscience think that there are some propositions that likely God does not know.

    Recall the discussion above about indexicals (See Beliefs, Sentences, Propositions and God's Knowledge). Some have argued that it is impossible for God to know the proposition expressed by Jones when Jones says "I am thinking." The idea is that such propositions involving an indexical term like "I" are not identical with propositions involving proper names such as "Jones" in the sentence, "Jones is thinking." God could know "Jones is thinking" but propositions with an indexical like "I" can only be grasped by whoever is expressing the proposition, in this case, Jones.

    In response, some have argued that "I" refers to a haecciety, a mysterious entity that individuates Jones from other humans, but an entity nonetheless that God can know (Wierenga, 50-6). Jones and every other human have in common "humanity" but differ by having individual haeccities. In knowing "I am thinking" when thought by Jones, God knows the act of Jones' thinking & Jones' haecciety and thereby knows that this proposition is true. But there are questions about whether or not God could know haeccities of persons or objects other than God (Rosenkrantz, 220-4).

    Another set of propositions that God may not know are propositions about causally undetermined, future events. Examples are random events at the quantum level or free creaturely actions. Whether or not God has knowledge of the future will be discussed below.

    It should be reiterated that proponents of this limited view of omniscience still want to maintain that omniscience can be characterized quite sufficiently as a comparative notion. They are not denying that God is omniscient. They simply think that omniscience need not be thought of as necessarily having knowledge of every true proposition. True, it may seem strange that God learns things. Nevertheless, they insist, no one who exists knows as much as God. God still knows a lot more than anyone else.

    ii. Having knowledge which could not possibly be surpassed

    This definition is also compatible with the second non-comparative definition above (having knowledge of all true propositions) and proponents of this definition typically think that God does not know all true propositions. But this analysis is stronger than the previous comparative analysis (i) because it states that God knows everything that any being could possibly know. The problem with the previous analysis of omniscience is that it leaves open the possibility that there is a possible being whose knowledge could exceed God's knowledge. But at least since the time of Anselm, God is thought of not only as the greatest actual being, but the greatest possible being. As such it should be the case that God has knowledge which no one could possibly surpass.

    iii. Having knowledge which could not possibly be matched by another

    Note that both (i) and (ii) state that no one can know as much as God but they allow for the possibility that there can be more than one omniscient being. But most theists are uncomfortable with this possibility and (iii) rules this out. In support of (iii) a theist could appeal to the doctrine of divine simplicity, the doctrine that God is perfectly simple (as mentioned above).

    Since the Medieval era, a number of theologians have proposed that God is absolutely simple and that in reality, (on a very popular interpretation) all of God's attributes are really identical with each other and God. This is a difficult doctrine to understand for it forces one to say that God's omniscience is really identical to God's omnipotence, God's omnipotence is identical to God's justice, and so forth. But if the doctrine is embraced, it seems to be incompatible with analyses (i) and (ii). For if God is the greatest possible being, and God is the greatest in virtue of having the great-making attributes of omniscience, omnibenevolence, and so forth, (which turn out to all be identical with each other and with God), then it is impossible that any other being have omniscience, for to be omniscient is to be identical with God. [For more arguments for a comparative analysis of omniscience see Hoffman and Rosenkrantz (2002)].

    iv. Having the most actual, or unsurpassable, or unmatchable cognitive power

    The final analysis of God’s omniscience is really a group of three related views which could be parsed in terms of God having the most actual power or possible power. But for brevity sake the three views have been lumped together leaving it to the reader to understand “most actual”, “unsurpassable”, and “unmatchable” along the lines discussed in the previous three analyses. What separates this kind of analysis from the former ones is that the idea of omniscience is understood strictly as a function of God’s omnipotence and not in terms of the scope or content of God’s knowledge. The concept of omniscience, it is thought, is only a concept about what God is able to do and not about what he knows. So this view is neutral on the scope of God’s actual knowledge–there may be some things that God does not or cannot know.

    One virtue of this view for Christian theists is that it may provide resources for making sense of how Jesus was God even though he seemed to grow in knowledge and wisdom during his life on earth. If to be omniscient, it is sufficient to have a superior kind of cognitive power without thereby exercising that power, Jesus could be said to be divine even though he did not fully exercise his power to know many things. In becoming a man, Jesus relinquished the full exercise of his omnipotence and with it his vast knowledge, nevertheless retaining his power. This position of course leaves one with the curiosity that one can be a human and be omniscient, but perhaps this can be defended. Furthermore, there is a question about whether omniscience is an attribute of only God considered as a complete substance or an attribute of each person. [For more on this understanding of the scope of omniscience see Kvanvig (1986), (1989), and Taliafferro (1993)].

    Merriam-Webser’s online dictionary
    Omniscient.
    1 : having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight
    2 : possessed of universal or complete knowledge

    Wikipedia
    Omniscience is the capacity to know everything infinitely, or at least everything that can be known about a character’s including thoughts, feelings, life and the universe etc. In monotheism, this ability is often typically attributed to God, but appears nowhere explicitly in the Bible. This concept is included in the Qur’an, where God is called “Al-’aleem” on multiple occasions. This is the infinite form of the verb “alama” which means to learn.

    Definitions
    There is a distinction between:

    * inherent omniscience the ability to know anything that one chooses to know and can be known and
    * total omniscience actually knowing everything that can be known.

    Many modern theologians argue that God’s omniscience is inherent rather than total, and that God chooses to limit his omniscience in order to preserve the freewill and dignity of his creatures[1]

    Further on it says:

    Nontheism often claim that the very concept of omniscience is inherently contradictory, but at least the qualified definition directly above seems consistent in itself, even though it might turn out to contradict other theistic doctrines such as the doctrine of libertarian free will.

  70. #70 John Lynch
    January 21, 2007

    Earlier on in this discussion I stated “Let’s not get into another discussion about whether Dawkins is right or not.” Later I commented: “Many commenters seem to blindly want to continue on defending Dawkins as demonstrating expertise. Fair enough. But it is neither the discussion that I wanted when I posted this, nor – if past history tells us anything – a profitable discussion. So, I will keep silent.” I should, perhaps, have kept my own advice. Not heeding my own words, I sought to correct a comment regarding the tension between omniscience and omnibenevolence, and in reply to this “sir_russ” has spent an obviously huge amount of time tracking down various definitions on omniscience in an attempt to dismiss my claim (albeit intemperately worded) that Jason’s view is flawed and not representative of thinking within philosophy of religion.

    Buried within his comment is the following: Many professional philosophers – that is, those who are paid to teach it at the university level – agree with you and many disagree with you on this point. Yes, there is disagreement regarding what omniscience entails. Some philosophers agree with me and some disagree. But none of this supports Jason’s original contention that “Either God can change his mind, in which case he cannot be omniscient, or he cannot change his mind, in which case he cannot be omnipotent.” In fact, if the disagreement undermines my position, it also fatally wounds Jason’s. One would have hoped that “sir_russ” would have stopped after having made his initial claim, but he soldiers on to other issues regarding philosophy. For example, later he claims that philosophy of religion is “without a doubt, theology” and in so doing actually ignores distinctions drawn on some of the webpages he approvingly quotes when discussing omniscience.

    “sir_russ” also appears to think that I am accusing Dawkins (and “the many others associated with the multi-year production of the The God Delusion”) of being “intellectually dishonest” and of having “conspired to mislead and misinform”. I have not, and never have, made such a claim and it is a mark of the emotional response of defenders of Dawkins that I get accused of being uninformed, ignorant, authoritarian, intellectually dishonest, and lazy, all the while having views ascribed to me that I do not hold.

    And that is my last word on all of this.

  71. #71 sir_russ
    January 21, 2007

    Mr. Lynch,

    If I have misrepresented your views in any way, please accept my heartfelt apology. I do not mean leave wrong impressions of people anywhere, and I truly do appreciate persons like yourself who make concerted efforts to provide an open forum for interchange on interesting and important topic areas.

    Respectfully yours,

    Russ

  72. #72 bob koepp
    January 22, 2007

    Since Lakatos’ “Proofs and Refutations” has been mentioned, I’ll add that “Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge” should be essential reading for anybody interested in how science “works.”

  73. #73 Clark Goble
    January 23, 2007

    I haven’t checked out this thread for a while, but just want to make one comment.

    Thony C. : Popper never rejected induction as a basis for the philosophy of science.

    Allow me to quibble. For one, one has to ask what “knowledge” means. The term, even in philosophy, isn’t always used the same way. i.e. does it entail certainty or not or merely sufficient justification for a true belief. So I’m uncomfortable with the claim that Hume showed induction couldn’t lead to knowledge. Many simply dispute this.

    Regarding Popper, while Popper certainly followed Hume what is often considered characteristic of his philosophy of science is his attitude towards induction. The demarcation problem was but one aspect of this treatment of induction. To say this is widely accepted, as you seem to, seems quite wrong. Popper’s view was that induction gives no rational force for belief whereas most acknowledge problems with induction but feel it gives fallible force. A rather large distinction. Popper’s adoption of a rather extreme form of fallibilism (much stronger than prior fallibilists such as Peirce) leads him to a fairly extreme skeptical stance.

    I’m not sure on what basis you are guaging Popper’s continued dominance of philosophy of science. But I sure don’t see it in the journals and books I read. He’s influential of course. But then so are many thinkers who’s main ideas have been rejected. Perhaps our main disagreement is more a point of emphasis rather than content. But I just don’t see philosophy of science embracing only deduction. Indeed there are well known logical problems with such a claim (such as the critiques of falsification somehow avoiding the problems that verification ala the positivists faced).

    None of this is to say Popper isn’t influential nor to deny as a logical problem Hume’s critiques. However it seems very difficult to argue induction isn’t as a social fact an integral part of science.