Friday, February 18, 2011

To a louse

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!

Robert Burns, “To a Louse”

It never ceases to amaze how Richard Dawkins, P. Z. Myers, and their clones in the blogosphere routinely display exactly the sort of ignorance and bigotry of which they haughtily accuse their opponents.  How might one get them to see themselves as others see them?  Perhaps the way Nathan got David to see that he was guilty of adultery and murder.  Let’s give it a try.  If you’re a “New Atheist” type, consider the following hypothetical exchange between a scientist and a science-hating skeptic:

Skeptic: Science is BS.  Physicists believe in these things called “quarks,” which are little flavored particles that spin around and work like magic charms.  Their evidence is that they read about them in a James Joyce novel.  Some of them think the universe is made up of tiny shoelaces tied together, though they admit that they have no evidence for this and have to take it on faith.  Einstein said morality is all relative – which is why he stole his ideas from this guy who worked in a patent office, and why Richard Feynman stole atomic secrets during WWII.  Meanwhile, the chemists contradict the physicists and believe instead in little colored balls held together by sticks.  Biologists believe monkeys can give birth to human beings.  What a bunch of crap!  It’s child abuse to teach kids about this stuff in schools.

Scientist: Are you joking?  If not, I suggest that you actually read some science before criticizing it.

Skeptic: I’ve already read a lot about it, in blog comboxes like this one.  And why should I waste my time reading anything else?  I already know it’s all BS!  Didn’t you hear the examples I just gave? 

Scientist: No, you’re missing my point.  You’ve completely distorted what scientists actually say.  It’s not remotely as silly as you think it is.  In fact it’s not silly at all.  But you need to actually read the stuff to see that.

Skeptic: So you deny that physicists believe in quarks?  What flavor are your quarks, chocolate or vanilla?  Do you deny that they think we came from monkeys?  Which monkey was your mother?

Scientist: No one says that monkeys gave birth to humans.  That’s a ridiculous caricature.  And of course I don’t deny that physicists believe in quarks, but you’re badly misunderstanding what they mean when they attribute “flavor” to them.  They don’t mean that literally…

Skeptic: Oh so it’s just empty verbiage, then.  See, you’re just proving my point for me.

Scientist: No, it’s not empty verbiage.  It’s technical terminology.

Skeptic: I see, like magic spells.  That’s why they talk about “charm.”  Really, you’re just digging the hole deeper.

Scientist: Actually, it’s you who is digging your own hole deeper.  That’s not what they mean by “charm.”  If you knew anything at all about physics, you’d realize that.

Skeptic: See, every time I debate people like you, you always whine about how everyone misunderstands what you mean.  You always say “Go read this shelf of books and come back when you know what you’re talking about.”  It’s like one of the naked emperor’s sycophants telling the kid who sees that he’s naked that he needs to read the learned works of Count Roderigo concerning the fine leather of the emperor’s boots, etc.

Scientist: What a ridiculous analogy.  You’re just begging the question.  Whether science is really comparable to the naked emperor is precisely what’s at issue.

Skeptic: OK, I’ll bite.  Explain it to me, then.  Prove to me here and now in this combox that science is worth my time, as opposed to being the tissue of superstition, lies, and bigotry that I already know it to be.  And don’t get long-winded like you people tend to do, or start throwing around references to this scientist I should know about or that book I should have read.

Scientist: What is this, an invitation to the Star Chamber?  How am I supposed to explain fields as complex as quantum physics, or evolutionary biology, or chemistry to the satisfaction of someone as hostile to them as you are in a combox comment, or even a blog post or series of blog posts?  Besides, there are so many things wrong with what you’ve said I don’t even know where to begin!  And if I keep it short, you’ll tell me that I’m dodging whatever issue I don’t address, while if I respond at greater length you’ll tell me I’m a windbag.  I can’t win!  But why are you wasting time in a combox anyway?  Why don’t you just read the work of some actual scientists?  It’s right there in the library or bookstore if you really want to understand it.

Skeptic: I knew it.  You won’t defend yourself because you know you can’t.  But then, arguing with people like you just gives you credibility.  That’s why you uneducated, irrational fanatical bigots need to be shouted down by reasonable, open-minded, well-read, tolerant people like me.  Science is BS, and you know it.  It’s just so obvious.  So why don’t you go back to eating your tasty flavored quarks and tying your vibrating 11-dimensional shoestrings over at your Uncle Monkey’s house, OK?  I’ll be here in the reality-based community reading my copy of The Science Delusion.

Naturally, a Dawkins or Myers would be appalled at our Skeptic.  And rightly so.  But replace terms like “science,” “physicists,” “quarks,” etc. with terms like “theism,” “philosophers,” “God,” etc. and you’ve suddenly got in our Skeptic a typical Dawkins or Myers fan – indeed, you’ve got someone pretty much indistinguishable from Dawkins or Myers themselves. 

Don’t expect the scales to fall from their eyes anytime soon, though.  It is hard enough for anyone to say “I was wrong.”  But the New Atheist has to say much more than that.  To admit his errors really amounts to saying “I am exactly the sort of person that I have loudly, publicly, and repeatedly denounced and ridiculed, and the hating of whom gives me my sense of identity and self-worth.”  That requires a nearly superhuman degree of honesty and courage.  So, while this or that New Atheist loudmouth might, like David, finally see himself for what he really is, I think we can expect the bulk of them to continue their spiral into intellectual and moral darkness.  All in the name of reason and morality, of course.

149 comments:

Tony said...

That's a great development of scornful invective, Ed. I love your line It’s just so obvious. So why don’t you go back to eating your tasty flavored quarks and tying your vibrating 11-dimensional shoestrings over at your Uncle Monkey’s house, OK? That there is a classic.

Matt said...

Brillant

derp said...

In before the trolls come here saying "hurf durf you're putting science and philosophy/theism in the same level that's dumb hurrr durrr."

Seriously, Ed. I think the big problem here is that humility isn't valued anymore in our society. People don't like to admit being wrong, because they believe doing so will make them appear as weak, potentially removing them from their position of authority.

But, like that good old man in Europe says, "Truth is not defined by a majority vote." I'd add that truth isn't defined by those who scream the loudest.

Eric said...

"I think the big problem here is that humility isn't valued anymore in our society. People don't like to admit being wrong, because they believe doing so will make them appear as weak, potentially removing them from their position of authority."

I'm not persuaded that the problem is not valuing humility. Dawkins has written,

"I have previously told the story of a respected elder statesman of the Zoology Department at Oxford when I was an undergraduate. For years he had passionately believed, and taught, that the Golgi Apparatus (a microscopic feature of the interior of cells) was not real: an artifact, an illusion. Every Monday afternoon it was the custom for the whole department to listen to a research talk by a visiting lecturer. One Monday, the visitor was an American cell biologist who presented completely convincing evidence that the Golgi Apparatus was real. At the end of the lecture, the old man strode to the front of the hall, shook the American by the hand and said--with passion--"My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years." We clapped our hands red. No fundamentalist would ever say that. In practice, not all scientists would. But all scientists pay lip service to it as an ideal--unlike, say, politicians who would probably condemn it as flip-flopping. The memory of the incident I have described still brings a lump to my throat."

Now I've heard that Dawkins isn't exactly like "elder statesman of the Zoology Department at Oxford," but I believe that he thinks he's like him. In other words, I think he values humility, even if he doesn't always (ever?) exhibit it. The problem is that Dawkins really does think that religious belief is epistemically equivalent to belief in Santa Claus, leprechauns, etc. So on one level, it's a problem of ignorance. But on the other hand, I doubt it's possible to persuade him he's wrong. Is that a 'humility' issue? Perhaps, but I don't think it's a 'not valuing' humility issue.

Here's a somewhat analogous case: Richard Tarnas wrote a decent introduction to philosophy, "The Passion of the Western Mind." I later came across his book, "Cosmos and Psyche," which I quickly discovered was an attempt to defend some sophisticated account of astrology. I refused even to read the book because I'm confident that astrology is ridiculous. Am I in a similar position with respect to Tarnas and astrology as Dawkins is with respect to Aquinas et al and theism? In some ways, I think the answer is yes, though there are obvious, and obviously significant, dis-analogies, such as the lack of a strong, thousand-year-plus tradition of powerful intellects defending astrology with rigorous arguments, or the empirically falsifiable nature of astrology. So while I disagree with Dawkins and the rest of the New Atheists, I can at least see a way in which they could both value humility and be in a position in which they refuse to consider seriously theistic arguments.

(Now I'd like to think that if someone could point me to the works of a long tradition of Aquinas like intellects in astrology, and who could show me that all my objections to it are premised on misunderstandings and ignorance, I'd reconsider my judgment, but I can't say for sure. I add this to emphasize that I do think that the dis-analogies I referred to earlier are significant. I'm just trying to be charitable -- a little too hard, perhaps!)

Tony said...

Eric, I think your point is partly true, but partly not. The problem isn't that Dawkins et. al. reasonably think that philosophy has no 1000 year body of rigorous development comparable to that of math or physics. The problem is that philosophers reasonably posit that those very centuries-long developments of physicists involve, rest on, and (sometimes) assume certain philosophical theories that they aren't even aware of, much less trained in. And the Dawkinses won't listen because they say that (like astrology) it does not present enough evidence for them to be bothered to listened to it. But of course, the kind of "evidence" they willing to accept is based on those theoretical underpinnings they are unaware of and unwilling to think about, which the philosophers call into question.

If Archimedes had said, back in the year 300 BC, that space and time are relative and that this has philosophical implications about what kinds of things you can expect of physics, he would have been laughed at. Newton would have ignored his "mysticism" as being totally irrelevant to physics. But Newton would have been wrong to ignore the argument merely because it _seemed_ like mysticism at the time.

derp said...

Eric,

Thanks. I didn't know about that anecdote.

Honestly, we all like to think of ourselves as humble, open minded and always ready to accept our mistakes.

Maybe it's all ideology. I don't know.

Jinzang said...

As I recall, Aquinas partly accepted the validity of astrology, in that he believed it affected the body, but not the mind.

The world view of the new atheist is, broadly speaking, positivist. They believe all knowledge is empirical, is determined through science, and any question without a scientific answer is a matter of opinion. They view philosophy, like religion, as a failed science, an attempt to get answers to empirical questions through non-scientific means. And thus they view philosophy, like religion, as deceptive. In their view religion deceives by telling people to have faith, to believe without evidence. And philosophy deceives through word wrangling, bamboozling people through empty verbiage. Neither is worth study, since both have been superseded by science.

The arrogance of the new atheist is the arrogance of a true believer. They believe they have the answers because they are arguing from science, and you are not.

Frank said...

Well said! Religious people have spent thousands of years making up all sorts of fiction that flatly contradicts observable reality, and then all sorts of extra fiction on top of that to defend all the original fiction. And then yet more layers of fiction to cover the gaps in the previous layers. And then scientists come along and completely ignore all of it. They actually think that observing reality is somehow more important than studying accumulated millenia of made-up crap. Ignorant, arrogant, bigoted fools.

Crude said...

Eric,

If I recall right, the context of that piece was Dawkins trying to illustrate how science is different from religion. Not only do I think it's a terrible example if one is looking at how scientists typically behave in such situations, but it should be read in that context.

I'm not convinced that Dawkins 'really thinks religious belief is equivalent to belief in leprechauns'. I do know that he thinks it should be treated as such at all times, precisely because he's on record as saying that ridicule rather than argument will get the results he values most.

That said, I agree that humility isn't the only factor here. There are personal aspects, there are politics involved, etc.

Anonymous said...

Frank,

Thanks for proving Ed's point.

Anonymous said...

Jinzang said...
They believe they have the answers because they are arguing from science, and you are not.

Jinzang,

The problem is precisley that these scientists are not making claims based on science. More explicitly, they are not using the scientific method to make claims about the natural world. They are instead masquerading untestable hypothesis as scientific fact then making logically incoherent philosophical, non-scientific, claims. Thus they may deem philosophy as a failed enterprise, philosophy is precisely what they are doing, and doing it poorly!

Landon Hedrick said...

Ed, good post. I think it does a good job of pointing to what's wrong with some of the "new atheists." In particular, this is a pretty accurate portrayal of people who I have called "teenage atheist know-it-alls."

I used to be one. Now I'm a more modest atheist, and I can hardly stand that cavalier attitude.

Edward Feser said...

"Frank" has got to be a parody. A little too perfect though, "Frank" -- making your comment even just slightly less clueless might have made the satire less transparent.

Anonymous said...

There is a big problem with having a positivist outlook on life, as when a person believes all knowledge, for it to be valid, must be empirical and scientific. Well, what is the scientific basis for thinking that way? What empirical basis does the positivist have for believing all knowledge, in order to be worthy of belief, must be scientific? None. Positivism fails to prop itself up.

~ Mark

Maolsheachlann said...

Dr. Feser, is your blog post title a sly dig at Dawkins's practice (enthusiastically taken up by his acolytes) of describing people who answer his God-bashing books as "fleas"? (He admitted he took this from a Yeats poem, the irony being that Yeats detested materialism and atheism.)

It seems to me monumental cheek to make a career out of God, and then to call your own critics parasites. Or to lay down the gauntlet to believers and then walk away when someone picks it up.

By the way, I am re-reading your Aquinas. I wonder if you might address at some point the authority of Thomism in the Church's eyes? The Catechism and Fides et Ratio seem a bit unclear about it, saying that the Church embraces no one philosophy but also encourages the study of Aquinas. I'm sure I'm putting it wrong, though. I'm led to wondering whether other philosophical approaches to God are ultimately a wild goose chase, according to Church teaching?

YetAnotherAnon said...

This is OFF TOPIC (apologies in advance)but perhaps someone could chime in.

How could one refute this nonsense easily:

"Atheists don't do much to offend people

It's Christians, with their pro-slavery, anti-woman, pro-rape, pro-murder, anti-education, anti-gay, pro-torture stance that piss people off

When was the last time somebody was burnt at the stake in the name of atheism?

When was the last time an atheist killed someone SPECIFICALLY IN THE NAME OF ATHEISM?"

When was the last time a theist killed specifically in the name of theism?

There is a No True Scotsman there but this type of bonehead thinking is prevalent among some types of angry atheists or pseudo-atheists.

Could someone give some thoughts?
Thanks

derpderp said...

@ yetanotheranon,

That's easy, just point out to the poor guy that no atheist in the history of human kind (or anything else for that matter) has ever done anything in the name of atheism. Nothing good, nothing bad. On its own it is a bit useless and lack anything positive or constructive. After all, it is merely a negative proposition towards theism. Atheism on its own contributes to humanity about as much as not collecting stamps or not growing hair on your head. It needs to be propped up with some kind of ideology, be it materialism, naturalism or humanism or whatever.

Ask the chap to name ONE that has happened specifically in the name of atheism. If he names anything, just tell him he is a liar or confused about atheism for being some kind of positive and constructive ideology or belief..

Brian said...

Well said! Religious people have spent thousands of years making up all sorts of fiction that flatly contradicts observable reality, and then all sorts of extra fiction on top of that to defend all the original fiction. And then yet more layers of fiction to cover the gaps in the previous layers. And then scientists come along and completely ignore all of it. They actually think that observing reality is somehow more important than studying accumulated millenia of made-up crap. Ignorant, arrogant, bigoted fools.

As if on cue.

DANCE PUPPET, DANCE!

mattghg said...

Hammer, nail, head.

Daniel Smith said...

YetAnotherAnon: "When was the last time an atheist killed someone SPECIFICALLY IN THE NAME OF ATHEISM?"

Well, Christians and Jews were killed by atheist Communists specifically because they believed in God.

Wouldn't that qualify as "specifically in the name of atheism"?

derp said...

Oh, no. Daniel, no no no! Those atheists didn't kill in the name of atheism... can't you see? it's all because they were NOT BEING RATIONAL ENOUGH! it was because they were not atheist enough and because Marxism was a religion. No True Atheist would kill people in the name of atheism.

You see how easy it is?

*puts on smug face, ignores history*
*farts hard, enjoys the fumes*
*goes back to play WoW*

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@Maolscheachlann:

The Church officially (Aeterni Patris, Fides et Ratio, etc.) holds up the Angelic Doctor as a model for Catholic theologians and philosophers. These endorsements are vague enough to admit of many interpretations, from the clearly pro-Thomist to the Scotistic and highly reserved.

Maolsheachlann said...

Thank you, Leo Carton Mollica. I don't know anything about Scotism yet.

Brandon said...

I don't know anything about Scotism yet.

Well, as Thomists like to joke (usually in the hearing of Scotists), nobody knows anything about Scotism yet.

Tony said...

Leo, I agree that there are various ways of understanding the official sanctions of the teaching of St. Thomas, but I don't think a "highly reserved" one is valid understanding. It may indeed be the approach taken by a Scotist who is not trying to be a heretic, but by being "highly reserved" he is not interpreting Aeterni Patris so much as ignoring it.

Anonymous said...

"When was the last time an atheist killed someone SPECIFICALLY IN THE NAME OF ATHEISM?""

The 20th century, beginning roughly around the Bolshevik revolution.

The "name of atheism" appendage won't get you out of this, since the Bolshevik revolution depended on dialectical materialism, an atheist dogma.

A fatherland version of it gets picked up by Hitler and then Mao. It eventually is employed to justify imprisoning millions behind the iron curtain.

The eugenics movement is also based on philosophical materialism. How'd that work out? Three generations of embeciles enough?

Today, we have Peter Singer singing the praises of infanticide and euthanasia.

And I haven't even mentioned the millions of unborn children killed in abortion, a project in modern times pushed by atheists.

Haven't you guys run out of body bags yet?

nyokodo said...

You missed your calling as a comedian Ed!

Anonymous said...

"And I haven't even mentioned the millions of unborn children killed in abortion, a project in modern times pushed by atheists."

But don't most people who get abortions in the US self-identify as being religious, particularly Christian?

from abortionno, an anti-abortion website:

"Who's having abortions (religion)?

Women identifying themselves as Protestants obtain 37.4% of all abortions in the U.S.; Catholic women account for 31.3%, Jewish women account for 1.3%, and women with no religious affiliation obtain 23.7% of all abortions. 18% of all abortions are performed on women who identify themselves as 'Born-again/Evangelical.'"

Anonymous said...

Many in the academic community, including most philosophers, think that theology, like astrology, is just silly.

Any ideas on how to rectify this?

If theology is a legitimate field of inquiry, and not just an elaborate fantasy like astrology, what must theologians do to rehabilitate their field?

Claiming that the fault lies only with the critics won't fly.

BenYachov said...

>If theology is a legitimate field of inquiry, and not just an elaborate fantasy like astrology, what must theologians do to rehabilitate their field?

The question is ambiguous in that it assumes all theologies are equivocal to one another.

Further more are we specifying Natural Theology vs Moral Theology or Philosophical Theology?

In regards to Astrology. We can and do study Natural Astrology today we just call it Astrophysics and Astronomy.

BenYachov said...

>18% of all abortions are performed on women who identify themselves as 'Born-again/Evangelical.'"

Father Greotchel once cited a statistic that said 10% of all Irish Atheists believe in the Divinity of Christ.

Also there are statistics about percentages of Atheists who pray.

About 1/3 of them
http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/36827

So people in general since the Fall are inconsistent? This is news why?

Ranger said...

Anon,
Your stats somewhat confirm that non-religious are more likely to have abortions.

Consider that in the recent Pew poll, 1.6% of Americans are atheist, 2.4% are agnostic and 6.3% are secular unaffiliated. That comes to a total of 10.3% of the population. If nearly 24% of the abortions are from a group that only makes up 10% of the population, that's significant.

But it's actually worse. You see, the non-religious are predominantly white males (over 80% white), and not by a small margin. According to the same Pew study, 70% of American atheists are male, 64% of agnostics and 60% of the secular unaffiliated. So realistically, you are talking about 24% of the abortions in America from a group that makes up between 3-4% of the total population.

Even when compared to the very generic "Protestant" category, you see that non-religious are much more likely to have a abortion. You see, 51.3% of Americans are Protestant, and 54% of those are women. Furthermore, evangelicals make up 26.3% of the population (53% femle), yet only 18% of the abortions.

Thus, it should not be too surprising that related categories are the way that they are. The majority of atheists and agnostics are unmarried, and according to Pew, 75% of atheists and agnostics have no children.

Tony said...

Many in the academic community, including most philosophers, think that theology, like astrology, is just silly.

Gee, many. Well, many in the theology part of the academic community don't. So, which part of the academic community do we adhere to?

Moreover, many in the theology part of the academic community think that a goodly share of the philosophy part of the academic community is just plain silly, for example, at least the significant portion of the philosopher community that attempts to discredit St. Thomas's first proof without ever even understanding the proof. And then (putting the silliness on top of their stupidity) they then publish such puerile thoughts.

At least 4/5 of the medical profession thought that Louis Pasteur was a raving lunatic about antiseptic practices. The issue is not how many disagree with you, but the quality of those that disagree and their basis for it. I wouldn't care a hoot for being opposed by 99.999% of the profession if that opposition was based entirely on a misunderstanding of what I was saying.

Crude said...

Many in the academic community, including most philosophers, think that theology, like astrology, is just silly.

"Many in the academic community"? Where's the data on this? The closest I'm aware of is the Philpapers survey, which Ed already commented on in the past - theists are a minority in that top tier of academic philosophy, except for philosophy of religion, where they're in the majority. And even being an atheist isn't enough to indicate one thinks theology is equal to astrology.

When we're talking just plain "academia" though, the data looks far different.

If theology is a legitimate field of inquiry, and not just an elaborate fantasy like astrology, what must theologians do to rehabilitate their field?

What would 'rehabilitate their field' even mean in this context? 'Get more people saying nice things about theology'?

Untenured said...

The New Atheists have painted themselves into a corner. If they had simply devoted their time to defending Atheism and countering the arguments for God, they would not be in such a hole. Instead, they chose to go around claiming that belief in God was a "delusion" with any rational support whatsoever. And it is now obvious that they have badly overreached and in many cases made complete fools of themselves. Since they have pushed the "Religion is demonstrably irrational" claim so hard for so long, they have no option left but to double-down on philosophical ignorance and incompetence.

Jinzang said...

It's true that calling people's deeply held beliefs delusional is not likely to convince them. But it would be a mistake to think the New Atheism will go away any time soon. Don't confuse rationality with rhetorical effectiveness. A clear, simple, and passionate message often carries the day. If you have some belief you care deeply about, you would do well to prepare an "elevator speech," a simple and memorable presentation that can be delivered in a minute or less.

Crude said...

But it would be a mistake to think the New Atheism will go away any time soon.

I don't think 'New Atheism' is going away, insofar as I don't think scientology is going away. But as a popular movement, it already peaked years ago. The most long-lasting contribution of the NAs is that now when someone thinks 'loud ignorant jackass who won't shut up about religion', they're just as likely to think of atheists as fire-and-brimstone preachers.

The ones benefiting most are more reasonable theists and (actual) open-minded agnostics.

Jinzang said...

The most long-lasting contribution of the NAs is that now when someone thinks 'loud ignorant jackass who won't shut up about religion', they're just as likely to think of atheists as fire-and-brimstone preachers.

You're taking the standpoint of one of the victims of their verbal assaults. What is offensive to you is attractive to one of their potential recruits. To many young men smugly insulting one's hopelessly clueless elders is attractive. Youth has always been rebellious and the New Atheism is a safe outlet for this rebellion. And that is why the New Atheism is not going away.

Crude said...

You're taking the standpoint of one of the victims of their verbal assaults.

Not really. I'm taking the standpoint of someone who's watched agnostics go out of their way to distance themselves from atheism in general and the New Atheists in particular since the latter's arrival, and who's seen their influence and notoriety decidedly peter off from its heyday for a number of reasons.

To many young men smugly insulting one's hopelessly clueless elders is attractive. Youth has always been rebellious and the New Atheism is a safe outlet for this rebellion. And that is why the New Atheism is not going away.

Except young men also tend to grow out of those phases, or get gripped by new phases altogether, or become an extreme minority while others move on. That's already taken place.

Like I said, I don't think the New Atheism is going away. But again - neither is scientology, among other things. I think it's clear at this point that, at least in the short to medium term, the New Atheism is going to have a lot more in common with scientology (speaking in terms of influence, etc) than anything else.

Agnostics though? And the more unusual metaphysical/religious beliefs? Those I think are better worth keeping an eye on.

derp said...

Except young men also tend to grow out of those phases, or get gripped by new phases altogether, or become an extreme minority while others move on. That's already taken place.

I don't know. I see to many manchildren these days -- men in their 30s and even 40s who still behave like teenagers.

Maturity is now an option, not an obligation.

Michael Sullivan said...

As one of the Scotists whose blog was linked to above, I might say that I wholeheartedly accept the Church's injunction to accept St Thomas as a model for philosophers and theologians. St Thomas was a great saint, teacher, and thinker and is of incalculable value for thinking Catholics. I've spent many hundreds of hours of fruitful study on his Summae, opuscula, commentaries, disputed questions, and so forth.

That being said, I don't think any of this requires me to unthinkingly accept particular philosophical conclusions endorsed by St Thomas and used in his theology if another position seems more reasonable. So I disagree with St Thomas on the distinction between essence and existence, the principle of individuation, the nature of the will and its relation to the intellect, etc., and incline instead to Bl John Duns Scotus' positions - that is, to those of another holy man and great thinker and son of the Church.

I think there are lots of good reasons St Thomas is held up preeminently as a model instead of Scotus, or St Bonaventure - another favorite of mine - or St Anselm or St Albert etc, without assuming that among those reasons is some sort of philosophical infallibility.

Sorry for the digression - Dr Feser, I thought this was a great post!

Crude said...

derp,

You're right, of course. But then again, manchildren are exactly the sorts you couldn't count on to really perpetuate a cause. It takes a special breed of social dysfunction to maintain a New Atheist mindset.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@Michael:

Thanks for the illuminating comment. I did not mean, if it was not clear before, to at all imply that you were somehow defying or barely complying with the Church's official presentation of the Angelic Doctor as a model for Catholic thought. Pace Garrigou-Lagrange, I think your response to documents like Aeterni Patris is just as valid as the accept-the-twenty-four-theses-or-suffer-the-wrath-of-God approach.

Tony said...

I think there are lots of good reasons St Thomas is held up preeminently as a model instead of Scotus, or St Bonaventure - another favorite of mine - or St Anselm or St Albert etc, without assuming that among those reasons is some sort of philosophical infallibility.

I think that's right: as much as I try to consider myself a disciple of St. Thomas in thought, the Church is not representing his thought as definitive, and certainly not as infallible. Therefore, disagreement with him is possible while remaining true to the Church, and true to the advice in Aeterni Patris.

Nevertheless, I think that disagreement with St. Thomas on something as fundamental as the distinction between potency and act would be an extremely worrisome form of such faithfulness, since so many of the infallible teachings of the Church make use of that distinction. There are things that are not taught as infallible, that are taught as such intimate supports to the infallible teachings that they require a great deal of respect and deference.

Michael Sullivan said...

Nevertheless, I think that disagreement with St. Thomas on something as fundamental as the distinction between potency and act would be an extremely worrisome form of such faithfulness

Absolutely. Though it's worth noting that this would not be a disagreement so much with St Thomas as with the entire medieval tradition of Catholic thought. What many people who don't read any scholastics besides St Thomas often fail to realize is that, for all their much-trumpeted differences, thinkers like St Thomas, St Bonaventure, and Bl Scotus have far much more in common philosophically than any of them do with any modern independent of the scholastics. One need not be a dyed-in-the-wool Thomist to be a good Catholic thinker, but one must respect St Thomas' way of doing things, and one cannot remain a good Catholic thinker and disdain the long tradition of scholastic thought to which he belongs.

Nick said...

Oh this was hysterical and a perfect example of the idiocy of "The Courtier's Reply."

Anonymous said...

Of course, atheists use the "courtier's reply" too. Remember the response to Leon Wieseltier's review of _Breaking the Spell_ that was offered up by a prominent atheist blogger? I'll recap: Among other things, Wieseltier pointed out that Dennett's armchair speculations about the evolutionary origins of religious belief were, well, armchair speculations. One of our blogger friend's rebuttals involved pointing out that Wieseltier had failed to appreciate the fact that Dennett's work fell within the philosophical sub-genre of speculative naturalism in the Humean tradition. That, my friends, was the real McCoy- a genuine, bona fide "Courtier's Reply".

dsjulian said...

yetanotheranon said: "When was the last time somebody was burnt at the stake in the name of atheism?"

Atheism is not the name they use. "Science" is the name they use to burn people.

yetanotheranon said: When was the last time an atheist killed someone SPECIFICALLY IN THE NAME OF ATHEISM?"

How about the scientists that are routinely publicly discredited because of their religious beliefs?

Look at what happened to Nobel Laureate Barbara McLintock after she completely disporved the ridiculous theoru of random mutation...

Ismael said...

But it would be a mistake to think the New Atheism will go away any time soon. Don't confuse rationality with rhetorical effectiveness. A clear, simple, and passionate message often carries the day.

I agree and indeed it underlines Feser's point as well.

The 'new atheists' are the '4chan' equivalent of the science-philosophy-religion discussion. (if you are aware of the infamous website)

Perhaps they do not 'do it for the lulz' (i.e. laughing at someone else’s expense) , but it is clear that the mocking and ever-sarcastic attitude of the New Atheists is a very adolescent and immature way of debating things.

I think this is also the heart of its popularity: it captivates the hearts of immature people with its witty and immature humor and vitriolic sarcasm.
Just like bullies like to get a laugh at bulling people. Just like immature girls like to spread mean gossips about a girl they do not like. Just like immature boys play stupid and humiliating pranks.

Since you’ll always have immature people… the new atheism will not die soon.

Hammiesink said...

John Loftus has just responded with a very calm and well-reasoned rebuttal: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/02/heres-proof-christians-are-deluded.html

Jake Elwood XVI said...

Prof Feser
Here is a reply from John W. Loftus.

I think he feels he has hit you out of the park. But not enough to reply on your blog.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/02/heres-proof-christians-are-deluded.html

Tony said...

"Well reasoned" !! Wow.

"out of the ballpark"!! Double wow.

You guys are great with the dry wit. Acerb doesn't begin to describe it.

Crude said...

The Omnipresent L is just trying to get attention, really. The theatrics and idiocy is just a prelude to "Review my book, Ed, or I shall call you a coward!" Something I hope Ed skips - this guy is not only a publicity hound (and pretty bad at it), but the last time he rolled over here he bungled everything badly. (Including lecturing Ed on how the only reason he believes in Christianity is because he's been one from birth, whereupon Ed informed him he used to be an atheist.)

Hopefully the clown won't get his act on this stage.

clamat said...

A thought or two from a “New Atheist.”

First, a personal one:

I’ve never believed in God. Had I been aware of Russell when I was ten I would have paraphrased him when Monsignor Sheridan asked why I had no interest in Confirmation: Not enough evidence, Monsignor! Not enough evidence!

But only upon the advent of the popularity of the Four Horsemen did I learn that, far from being virtually alone in my views, I am part of an actual community. I will forever be grateful to Dawkins et al. for encouraging me to “out” myself as an atheist. For me, “New” atheist simply means unapologetic and unwilling to treat bad arguments for God respectfully just because they are sincerely held.

I’ve frequented and commented on many atheist – and a few theist -- blogs. Certainly atheists can be strident and pig-headed and ignorant and stupid. And yes, I have mocked believers who, on one hand, claim the development of science and rationalism for Christianity, and on the other assert that the earth is only 6000 years old, or that near death experiences have “proven” the existence of the soul. I have also given up in exasperation on conversations with theists who argue incoherently or disingenuously (I’m sure you will concede there are at least a few).

But I can count on one hand the number of conversations that remotely resemble the “hypothetical” caricature presented above. If this has really been your experience, I am sorry, but to me it looks like about nine parts strawman, with one part tu quoque thrown in for taste.

And now a more substantive one:

I do think it’s fair to say New Atheists favor science and are suspicious of philosophy generally, and theology in particular. To my mind, there are several good reasons for this.

Like me, I suspect most New Atheists grew up seeing and benefitting from the ever-increasing fruits of science. It’s been said a million times, but I don’t think it can be over-emphasized: Science works. Science produces things.

Philosophy and theology, on the other hand, seem only to produce more and more words.
Neither ever seem to resolve anything. Witness the debate over Thomism vs. Scotism alluded to in the thread above. I’ll admit to knowing very little about either, but I do know that Duns Scotus died around 1300, about 40 years after Aquinas. Can you think of a significant scientific dispute that remains no closer to being resolved after 700 years? Shit, philosophers still debate Euthyphro.

Another example from above illustrates the point:

At least 4/5 of the medical profession thought that Louis Pasteur was a raving lunatic about antiseptic practices.

But Pasteur was a scientist, not a philosopher. And within only a few decades years the doubting four-fifths had come around, and Pasteurization was ubiquitous around the world. So I put it to all of you – in how many years can we expect Thomas’ Fifth Proof, or the Kalaam, or the Argument from Reason – or even just Dualism, for cripe’s sake! -- to be accepted with similar unanimity?

Martin said...

clamat,

What I find fascinating is when people disparage philosophy over science...by making a philosophical argument!

What you just said was basically:

"Empiricism is the best tool for knowing about the world."

A philosophical position; generally, that of positivism.

Or witness Stephen Hawking's last book, which opens with an invective against philosophy only to go on and make a philosophical argument for anti-realism. !!!

You can escape philosophy in exactly the same way you can escape yourself.

As for the supposed straw man-ing of the NA, the above sketch is exactly what Dawkins and Myers do on a daily basis: "Oh, well, x is just stupid. I don't need to understand it because it's obviously idiotic."

I can easily place these people in a box right alongside Ray Comfort.

BenYachov said...

clamat,

There is no excuse for the rejection of philosophy on the part of Fundamentalist New Atheists types anymore than there is for the rejection of science among fundamentalist religious types.

Both are examples of uneducated anti-intellectual and irrational world views.

Conflating philosophy with theology is also anti-intellectual and irrational.

Plus anti-philosophy arguments are not the same as anti-religious ones. Arguments against the validity of philosophy are in fact philosophical arguments.

The self-referential nature of this particular prejudice.

Even Atheist Objectivist Philosophers agree with us on the necessity of philosophy.

http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Rowlands/Philosophy_vs_Science.shtml

A rational person can be an Atheist but he can be a New Atheist and be rational. Only ignorant.

Crude said...

Like me, I suspect most New Atheists grew up seeing and benefitting from the ever-increasing fruits of science. It’s been said a million times, but I don’t think it can be over-emphasized: Science works. Science produces things.

So does philosophy and theology. In fact, philosophy and theology had a hand not only in the creation of science, but in the particular things science creates. People who are motivated by Christian charity and generosity will direct science and engineering to produce goods which help further those ends. People motivated by dialectical materialism, other goods.

Can you think of a significant scientific dispute that remains no closer to being resolved after 700 years?

Has modern science even been around for 700 years? Does 'resolved' mean universal acceptance, or 'except for those scientists who disagree - they're cranks'?

The problem isn't really with forsaking philosophy and theology for science. It's that the people who bitch and moan about philosophy and theology and regard them as useless then turn around and engage in both, usually while seeming or at least acting oblivious to this.

One isn't really "suspicious of philosophy and theology" when one routinely attacks philosophical and theological arguments they dislike, and boost ones they do like. They're just partisans.

BenYachov said...

The wife is rushing me off the computer.

edit:A rational person can be an Atheist but he can't be a New Atheist and be rational. Only ignorant.

Tony Hoffman said...

How smug of you write this.

The problem with your analogy, of course, is that scientists don't need to resort to pleas and bleatings to get folks to respect what they've spent so much time studying; scientists save us with medicine, launch things into the air and into space, build tools and systems that support us, and can blow crap up like nothing ever seen. Reality breaks every tie concerning disagreement.

And theologians have... bleating complaints like this post. You sound like a child who repeats a joke louder a second time, thinking that nobody laughed because they never heard it. No, we heard the joke the first time.

But there is a way to show me I'm wrong, and hats off to you if you can; show me that the claims of theology are meaningful, that they can be arbitrated by reality in a way that third parties universally accept. Without that, you just appear to be projecting, or displaying an ugly jealousy for those lucky enough to have invested their intellectual time pursuing something as useful and rewarding as theologians wished their enterprise to be.

Cheers.

Crude said...

The post wasn't about 'theology versus science'. It was about dealing with people who dismiss, with poor arguments, that which they don't understand enough to even represent adequately - be it theology, philosophy, science, or otherwise.

Lots of angry folks who have trouble with reading comprehension today.

Jinzang said...

I suspect most New Atheists grew up seeing and benefitting from the ever-increasing fruits of science. It’s been said a million times, but I don’t think it can be over-emphasized: Science works. Science produces things.

Yes, science produces things. Some of these things, like atomic bombs, threaten to destroy the planet. How can a discipline like science be rational unless the ends to which it is employed are rational? In the hands of a madman you see what we are presently seeing in Libya. If THAT is the fruit of science, then science deserves to be cursed. Examining the rationality our desires is the province of philosophy. Working to reform them is the province of religion. As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." But not every seems to understand this.

Eric said...

"But there is a way to show me I'm wrong, and hats off to you if you can; show me that the claims of theology are meaningful, that they can be arbitrated by reality in a way that third parties universally accept. Without that, you just appear to be projecting, or displaying an ugly jealousy for those lucky enough to have invested their intellectual time pursuing something as useful and rewarding as theologians wished their enterprise to be."

Doesn't this sound *just like* the following:

"Skeptic: OK, I’ll bite. Explain it to me, then. Prove to me here and now in this combox that science is worth my time, as opposed to being the tissue of superstition, lies, and bigotry that I already know it to be. And don’t get long-winded like you people tend to do, or start throwing around references to this scientist I should know about or that book I should have read.

"Scientist: What is this, an invitation to the Star Chamber? How am I supposed to explain fields as complex as quantum physics, or evolutionary biology, or chemistry to the satisfaction of someone as hostile to them as you are in a combox comment, or even a blog post or series of blog posts? Besides, there are so many things wrong with what you’ve said I don’t even know where to begin! And if I keep it short, you’ll tell me that I’m dodging whatever issue I don’t address, while if I respond at greater length you’ll tell me I’m a windbag. I can’t win! But why are you wasting time in a combox anyway? Why don’t you just read the work of some actual scientists? It’s right there in the library or bookstore if you really want to understand it.

"Skeptic: I knew it. You won’t defend yourself because you know you can’t."

Come on, Tony Hoffman. You did read the opening post, didn't you?

For crying out loud, this is simply ridiculous.

Tony Hoffman said...

Eric, do you honestly think that a biologist or astrophysicist has to resort to, "I can't predict anything based on what I know, so in lieu of that, read these seven books I wasted my time reading?"

No, an astrophysicist has to read lots of big books and stretch their mind, but they don't need you to read them to demonstrate that they know what they're talking about.

Perhaps the problem is that you're not engaging with how vital this distinction is, and how it is that the OP pretends that the scientist has only the same tools at her disposal that are available to the theologian.

Eric said...

"But I can count on one hand the number of conversations that remotely resemble the “hypothetical” caricature presented above. If this has really been your experience, I am sorry, but to me it looks like about nine parts strawman, with one part tu quoque thrown in for taste."

Professor Feser made it clear, from the outset, that his post was directed at "New Atheist" types like Myers and Dawkins, and not at all atheists. How, then, can it be any part strawman? Or, do you have any evidence that the likes of Dawkins and Myers know what the heck they're talking about?

"I do think it’s fair to say New Atheists favor science and are suspicious of philosophy generally, and theology in particular. To my mind, there are several good reasons for this."

The point of the post is that they are ignorant of the things they criticize, and that their typical responses to those who point out this obvious ignorance are simply laughable. Given this, I'm not sure how relevant your "reasons" are in the first place.

"Science works. Science produces things.
Philosophy and theology, on the other hand, seem only to produce more and more words."

The contributions of philosophy and theology to the development of science have already been mentioned, as has the philosophical nature of the very argument you're making. But further, whether you know it or not, philosophers and theologians have shaped and furnished you with most of the concepts and categories you use to make judgments about issues like this.

"Neither ever seem to resolve anything."

This is such an odd argument (well, the argument implied by this remark is odd) in many ways. Imagine if you applied it to politics, or morality, etc.

Eric said...

"Eric, do you honestly think that a biologist or astrophysicist has to resort to, "I can't predict anything based on what I know, so in lieu of that, read these seven books I wasted my time reading?""

Tony, do you honestly think that "a prediction" is all that's needed to justify the complex theory that underlies the prediction? This is getting more ridiculous. I think you need to read the opening post again.

Jinzang said...

Look, if someone challenged you by saying prove to me Picasso was a good painter. Or prove to me James Joyce was a good writer. Without a background in art or literature, it could not be done. And someone without such a background might well be bored or repulsed. The situation is very similar with philosophy. Without a decent background you will not understand the value of what some particular philosopher had said.

Anonymous said...

ok i just wasted 5 minutes of my life... any possibility for a refund?

Tony Hoffman said...

Eric: "Tony, do you honestly think that "a prediction" is all that's needed to justify the complex theory that underlies the prediction? This is getting more ridiculous. I think you need to read the opening post again."

This is ironic. Do you think that I wrote that "a prediction is all that's needed to justify a complex theory?" Why would you so quickily straw man my objection, especially when it's so short and easy to see that's what you have done?

It sounds like you're making up excused to not engage with my objection.

Crude said...

Why would you so quickily straw man my objection, especially when it's so short and easy to see that's what you have done?

Your challenge was: "But there is a way to show me I'm wrong, and hats off to you if you can; show me that the claims of theology are meaningful, that they can be arbitrated by reality in a way that third parties universally accept."

You supplemented it with...

"Eric, do you honestly think that a biologist or astrophysicist has to resort to, "I can't predict anything based on what I know, so in lieu of that, read these seven books I wasted my time reading?"

I'm not really seeing the strawman on Eric's part.

BenYachov said...

One of the marks of an New Atheist Fundamentalist is their reaction to critiques of the New Atheism. They often act as if such is an attack on all Atheism in general.

Sort of like certain hysterical Fundamentalist Sects act when you criticism their extremist or foolish behavior and they respond by claiming you are attacking the "Gospel" or Christianity or religion in general.

It's very egotistical behavior.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

I'm not sure diving into this debate is such a wise idea, but here goes...

First of all, science does not produce aeroplanes, microwaves, etc., or at least not in a manner analogous to, say, shipmaking's production of ships. Shipmaking is the habit whereby we produce ships; conversely, science is not the habit whereby we produce aeroplanes and microwaves, but rather permits us knowledge we employ in the production thereof. If, therefore, we are to account science a cause of aeroplanes and microwaves, we must be willing to reckon mediate causes as relevant to the dispute at hand, in which case, as noted above, we must countenance theology and philosophy as causes of aeroplanes and microwaves as well.

Second, meta-philosophy and anti-philosophy are just more (bad) philosophy. If you wish to refrain from engaging in philosophy, nobody's stopping you. But don't try to argue yourself out of it with further philosophy. To quote Bill Vallicella, that is more than a bit like fornicating oneself into chastity.

clamat said...

I guess I should have expected this, wandering into enemy territory. I’ve certainly seen theists subjected to reactive teeth-baring on atheist blogs.

I don’t “reject” philosophy, haven’t tried to “escape” it, and don’t want to “forsake” it for science. Far from it. One reading my post with any care should appreciate that in addition to Dawkins I’ve actually tried to read a fair amount of religious philosophy in the past few years, as far as time, desire, and my real life will allow. Even so, I do still “favor” science for reasons that I think are legitimate. I also remain suspicious of philosophy for the reasons I gave, and because the line between philosophy and sophistry is dangerously muddy to this humble reader.

I identify as a New Atheist, and I don’t just mindlessly gainsay theistic philosophy. To the extent the OP was intended to characterize those of us who identify as New Atheists generally, I maintain it was an unfair caricature. To the extent the OP was intended to apply solely to Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, it seems pretty narrow and pointless. To the extent the OP was intended to define “New Atheists” as “people who mindlessly gainsay theistic arguments,” well, we’ll define ourselves, thank you.

In short, I was trying to challenge, but I wasn’t just being confrontational. If you believe the challenge not particularly challenging, fine. But I don’t see how responding to one who identifies himself as a New Atheist thus:

A rational person can be an Atheist but he can't be a New Atheist and be rational. Only ignorant.

…amounts to anything more than bigotry.

Whatever. Bygones. I’ll leave you to your hateration with just a few more general comments.

A lot of the responses are of the “you’re using philosophy to tear down philosophy, dope” ilk. I understand where this comes from, but as I explained, I wasn’t trying to tear down philosophy. Rather, it was a question of relative weight, “favoring” science over philosophy.

A lot of other responses essentially credit philosophy for science in some way. Granting that science has its roots in philosophy, most of you acknowledge that the two now are distinct. Philosophy doesn't deserve credit for all scientific discoveries simply as the progenitor of science.

Similarly, the motivation for choosing one possible scientific endeavor over another certainly may be “philosophic” in nature. Philosophy has influence. But scientific advances generally aren’t made because of developments in philosophy, while philosophy more and more is compelled to reevaluate, reformulate, and revise in the face of scientific discoveries. This seems significant to me. Musn’t we acknowledge that the child has far outstripped the parent in terms of products, results, and knowledge?

Which brings me back to my original question. A subsequent post tees it up nicely:

[S]cience is not the habit whereby we produce aeroplanes and microwaves, but rather permits us knowledge we employ in the production thereof. (Emphasis deleted and added.)

Fair enough.

What specific knowledge have theology and philosophy provided that we employ in the production of aeroplanes and microwaves, or in the production of anything else besides more theology and philosophy?

Crude said...

I guess I should have expected this, wandering into enemy territory.

I thought my response to you, as well as most others, was pretty polite and fair.

I don’t “reject” philosophy, haven’t tried to “escape” it, and don’t want to “forsake” it for science. Far from it.

It's nice that you say that, but plenty of other atheists take to dumping on philosophy and theology expressly - even while (subconsciously or not) engaging in it. I know you define yourself as a New Atheist, but contrary to what you say, you really are going to be defined in part not just by whatever definition you come up with in some atheist treehouse. You'll also be defined by who you associate with, your own and other's actions, etc. Same goes for me as a Catholic.

I think Ed's post does an amusing job of summing up a number of prominent atheists, and certainly many of their fans. That you don't think you act that way - that you personally don't in fact act that way, if that's the case - doesn't suffice to dismiss that.

Philosophy doesn't deserve credit for all scientific discoveries simply as the progenitor of science.

It deserves credit insofar as philosophy is called on in the scientific method, in defining what science is or isn't, in the grounded assumptions science calls on to function, etc. It's not like (say) the law of non-contradiction is philosophy when used by Kant, but this completely different thing when Newton uses it.

So no, I don't think we have to acknowledge that "science" has become some entirely distinct beast and thus deserving of its own praise. Better to view it as a subset of philosophy that has particular utility. Just as, say.. computer science is regarded as a part of science, not some thing utterly different even in general classification when compared to biology.

What specific knowledge have theology and philosophy provided that we employ in the production of aeroplanes and microwaves, or in the production of anything else besides more theology and philosophy?

Well, moral knowledge helps keep us - usually - from producing those things with child labor, or from using price fixing in their sale. We may also call upon that knowledge to make various production decisions about safety requirements, information being provided, etc. But I'd guess you'd complain that this doesn't, specifically, make a better microwave.

I could go on with examples like that, but I'm more curious: Doesn't this seem like an odd question to ask? Are you really defining knowledge to more or less be 'That which can be used to make better material goods'?

hurr said...

clamat, somehow I get the feeling that, in order to downplay philosophy in favor of science, you try to establish something akin to Gould's non-overlapping magisteria.

You acknowledge that science has its roots in philosophy, but you go off the rails when you claim they have become completely separate and independent in their development. They haven't, and there is no reason to believe they ever will. Science just doesn't "happen" by itself -- it is the result of empiricism, a philosophical doctrine that is still being studied in epistemology, which deals with important questions about the validity of knowledge, e.g. the Duhem-Quine thesis, Gettier problems, etc. All of this is of high relevance to science; you don't prove empiricism empirically.

Now, I understand some people's aversion to philosophy because the 20th century produced a lot of unsavory stuff, going from logical positivism to French postmodernism. Any beginner who is exposed to Lacan or Ayer instead of Aristotle or Kant can be excused for hating philosophy, but that doesn't undermind the many previous centuries of tradition.

Maolsheachlann said...

I appreciate clamat's polite tone, and I think it instantly puts him outside the New Atheist camp. But when he says:

"Like me, I suspect most New Atheists grew up seeing and benefitting from the ever-increasing fruits of science. It’s been said a million times, but I don’t think it can be over-emphasized: Science works. Science produces things.

Philosophy and theology, on the other hand, seem only to produce more and more words."

I don't know how we can look at the history of humankind without thinking of theology and philosophy as the very motor of human affairs. When the history books examine Muslim or Christian or Hellenistic or any other civilization, they inevitably focus on the religious and philosophical heart of those civilizations. Civilizations are founded upon sacred texts and metaphysical ideas, not upon scientific advances.

Also-- and I admit this is a subjective point-- it seems appropriate that the highest and most important truths about existence should lie beyond the realm of empirical enquiry. Take the analogy of a film. All the lower technical accomplishments of a film-- the special effects, the make-up, the editing, the costume-- just cannot be understood without technical knowledge, and it is a scientific, practical question as to what process will achieve a particular special effect.

But the highest truths about a film-- the meaning, the artistic worth, the characterization, and so on-- these are things that cannot be decided empirically and it would be a terrible thing if they COULD be. Similarly, there can be no "advance" in knowledge on whether Yeats is a better poet than Shelley.

You can say that it's a mark against theology and philosophy that there is no real accumulation of knowledge in those subjects. But it also means that Socrates and Plato are of timeless relevance, whereas a computer science textbook of twenty years ago is obsolete.

In short, science does not cut to the essence of the human drama, or the drama of consciousness.

I don't advance this as a rigorous argument, merely a personal impression.

Maolsheachlann said...

But I will add; it seems to me a sign that we live in, as Chesterton said, "the best of all impossible worlds" that the highest reaches of knowledge should be, as it were, as cloud-capped as they are. The scientistic belief that all mystery is in principle open to empirical resolution seems utterly depressing.

Keith said...

This post does make a valid point. I went through my "New Atheism" stage but that is behind me now. I would rather be a thoughtful atheist.

BenYachov said...

@clamat

>A rational person can be an Atheist but he can't be a New Atheist and be rational. Only ignorant.

>…amounts to anything more than bigotry.

So let me get this straight. It's not bigotry for your heroes Dawkins and Myers to define all religious people without exception as irrational, ignorant, deluded and of course bigoted for believing in God.

But if I criticize a fringe subset of Irrational Atheists(& take a swipe a subset of religious person as well) that makes me a bigot?

How does such a blatant double standard on your part show rest of us you are rational?

In short it doesn't. It just confirms my original sentiments.

If you choose to call yourself a "New Atheist" that is your choice but you bear the same stigma as those among Religious types who self identify as "Fundamentalists".

Those are just the brute facts regardless of your personal metaphysics about ultimate reality.

OTOH maybe you aren't really a New Atheist. Just an Atheist?

BenYachov said...

>This post does make a valid point. I went through my "New Atheism" stage but that is behind me now. I would rather be a thoughtful atheist.

Good on you man!:-)

That is a step up!

Ismael said...

What specific knowledge have theology and philosophy provided that we employ in the production of aeroplanes and microwaves, or in the production of anything else besides more theology and philosophy?

This is pretty short-sighted

First of all the scientific method itself is grounded on some philosophical principles, hence philosophy is the base of science

Second: The world is not only airplanes and microwaves.

Think about it.

Science has given us nuclear energy and the H-bomb... bu science can NOT tell us how to use them.

Many scientist who worked on the Manhattan project were shocked of the results... perhaps they did not even think about what consequences their work could have....

Taking philosophy and/or theology out of the equation, means taking ETHICS out... then everything is allowed... and that can be very dangerous!

Science is only a tool, nothing more...

THIRD: Philosophy can be quite important when it comes to governments and politics.

You cannot rule a country with airplanes and microwaves... those are just tools.
To rule a country correctly you need to put the tools at your disposal to good use.

Politics, as a matter of fact, are a sort of applied philosophy

---
Even so, I do still “favor” science for reasons that I think are legitimate. I also remain suspicious of philosophy for the reasons I gave, and because the line between philosophy and sophistry is dangerously muddy to this humble reader.

Here's a common mistake. You are speaking like philosophy and science are mutually exclusive.

They are not. Many (or at least some) scientists (like myself) work in their field (in my case physics) and also take interest in philosophy and theology (especially in the field of ethics.

So you do not have to 'favor' any thing...

---

To the extent the OP was intended to apply solely to Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, it seems pretty narrow and pointless. To the extent the OP was intended to define “New Atheists” as “people who mindlessly gainsay theistic arguments,” well, we’ll define ourselves, thank you.

Instead of getting angry with us you should be angry at your fellow New Atheists.

If all or most of you behave like immature adolescents than you should change your attitude.

You can "define yourself" as much as you want... but your actions are what counts!

---

I do think it’s fair to say New Atheists favor science and are suspicious of philosophy generally, and theology in particular. To my mind, there are several good reasons for this.

Theists in general do not reject science, except those poor few fundamentalists.

Besides some of the most outspoken New Atheists are... PHILOSOPHERS (dramatic music!), like Martin, Harris and Dennett.

---

For me, “New” atheist simply means unapologetic and unwilling to treat bad arguments for God respectfully just because they are sincerely held.

Too bad the heralds of modern atheism (no only Dawkins, but also M. Martin. Dennett, Harris and others, some of which are philosophers as I said... and they usually have very little respect for any theistic argument... sometimes it seems they only listen to themselves

So your definition of New Atheist is wrong, in general. It applies only to yourself, perhaps.

Ismael said...


So I put it to all of you – in how many years can we expect Thomas’ Fifth Proof, or the Kalaam, or the Argument from Reason – or even just Dualism, for cripe’s sake! -- to be accepted with similar unanimity?


Just because an argument is not accepted unanimously it does not mean it's wrong.

Democracy is not accepted unanimously, yet I am sure you are convinced that it's the best form of government.

Same goes for child labor or woman slave trading...

Like me, I suspect most New Atheists grew up seeing and benefitting from the ever-increasing fruits of science. It’s been said a million times, but I don’t think it can be over-emphasized: Science works. Science produces things.

Science produces things... but the world is not only about producing things.

Again this is a pretty shortsighted vision.

Perhaps you should think about how many things do not come from science at all, like friendship, a parent's love, ethics, free speech etc...

Indeed the whole idea that you should be a free human being with dignity and human rights is a philosophical idea, NOT a scientific one.

A 'perfect technocracy' (ie a society based only on science and technology) could have slaves, use people as Guinea Pigs, be a dictatorship... etc...
Actually perhaps it'd be even more efficient that way (High IQ rulers and Low IQ slaves.. like in "Brave New World"


Science is a wonderful tool, but its uses are limited to the investigation of the material world, nothing more.

THINK ABOUT IT!

Bobcat said...

I think new atheists are often incautious about their language, saying self-refuting things like "philosophy is dead" or "philosophy doesn't give us knowledge". But I think the claim, "we should be much less sure of philosophical arguments for existence-claims than we are of scientific arguments for existence-claims" is more defensible than the typically over-the-top new atheist boilerplate.

Tony Hoffman said...

Crude: “I'm not really seeing the strawman on Eric's part.”

It’s easy. I wrote: “Eric, do you honestly think that a biologist or astrophysicist has to resort to, "I can't predict anything based on what I know, so in lieu of that, read these seven books I wasted my time reading?”

And Eric then wrote, “Tony, do you honestly think that "a prediction" is all that's needed to justify the complex theory that underlies the prediction?”

You see, Eric has paraphrased my question so as to create a strawman. Eric has restated my position to be, “A prediction is all that is needed to justify a complex theory.” But that is not what I wrote, nor could one reasonably summarize my position thus from what I wrote. Hence the strawman.

Dr. Plank said...

"So I put it to all of you – in how many years can we expect Thomas’ Fifth Proof, or the Kalaam, or the Argument from Reason – or even just Dualism, for cripe’s sake! -- to be accepted with similar unanimity?"

Why do you need something to be accepted with unanimity before you can make an informed judgment about it? Can't you think for yourself, o freethinker?

BenYachov said...

@clamat

According to the Fundamentalist New Atheist Dawkins, Francis Collins is a "Creationist"!

Now obviously anybody who is a Theist (excepting a strict Aristotelian) is a "Creationist" in the loose sense(believing God created the Universe) but commonly the term is used to identify a subset of Christian Theists who believe the universe was made over the course of 144 hour period.

Well that does not apply to Collins(or St Irenaeus or St Augustine) or me for that matter.

But if I went into New Atheist Forum(or even a forum of Rational Atheists) and announced I was a Fundamentalist Creationist I should not be surprised if they make certain negative if incorrect assumptions about what I really believe.

Kapish?

Tony Hoffman said...

"Shipmaking is the habit whereby we produce ships; conversely, science is not the habit whereby we produce aeroplanes and microwaves, but rather permits us knowledge we employ in the production thereof."

I understand your point there, and distinctions should be made. I am using science to mean the process of collecting empirical data (observing), of running tests and generating explanations that create meaningful predictions. In that way, building ships and microwaves is governed by a scientific process (as opposed to a theological one).

And I am NOT taking a position that philosophy is worthless, or even secondary. I am taking a position that theology (and bad philosophy, of which there is some), share a problem whereby they cannot refer to anything meaningful outside their own discourse to settle difference among disputants.

A physicist doesn't have to resort to his pages of work in order for you to understand that he knows something meaningful; she can also point to the large boom she just effected with her knowledge. A theologian can only.... point back to whatever it is theologians do.

BenYachov said...

>A physicist doesn't have to resort to his pages of work in order for you to understand that he knows something meaningful.

How does one prove using empirical science alone that something is meaningful?

Sounds like a philosophical question to me not an empirical scientific one.

Tony Hoffman said...

"How does one prove using empirical science alone that something is meaningful?"

Did I say prove?

If your point is that empiricism is meaningless to you without your philosophical training, then you are free to believe that. I think that would distort the term meaningful to the point where you'd have to take a position that if I punched you in the nose it wouldn't be meaningful to you unless you had considered how it that a punch in the nose could be meaningful. It's the absurdity and irrelevance of philosophical positions like that which I am arguing against.

Steven said...

Ed, As a working scientist who has had an opportunity to work briefly at a particle accelerator, my conversation with your skeptic would go more like this:

Physicist: So you don't believe in quarks, eh?

Skeptic: No, you're making this all up to fleece taxpayers.

Physicist: Ok, are you willing to put your money where your mouth is? I'm willing to let you go stand in the particle beam of my accelerator and allow you to expose yourself to hard radiation in order to prove that this is all a sham. Do you want to take me up on my offer?

In short, I think we both know that this sort of skepticism will start to evaporate rather quickly. Now I'm sure that there are probably a few people that would do this. But these are the same people that aren't vaccination their kids and causing outbreaks of measles and whooping cough.

In short, your attempt to turn the tables doesn't even pass the smell test.

BenYachov said...

Tony Hoffman

What do you even mean by "Meaningful".

It's not "meaningful" to punch me in the noise. It's either being a jerk or being a threat.

>If your point is that empiricism is meaningless to you without your philosophical training, then you are free to believe that.

Rather Philosophy is needed to interpret the meaning of the data empiricism provided.

>It's the absurdity and irrelevance of philosophical positions like that which I am arguing against.

What specific philosophical positions are you arguing against? Reductionism vs Holism? Conceptionalism vs Realism?

What is the deal here? Your ambiguous.

Tony Hoffman said...

Ben: “What do you even mean by "Meaningful".”

I mean that it has an empirical effect.

Ben: “It's not "meaningful" to punch me in the noise.

Under some definitions you are correct. According to the way I am using the term, I think it is clearly meaningful.

Ben: “It's either being a jerk or being a threat.”

I apologize if my analogy seems threatening; I think I should have chosen a less provocative way of explicating my point.

Ben: “Rather Philosophy is needed to interpret the meaning of the data empiricism provided.”

Perhaps. But it’s not required to observe the empirical effect though, is it? Observation (perception) does not require philosophy in order for an event to have meaning. And that is something that I believe some defenders of philosophy do not apprehend.

Ben: “What specific philosophical positions are you arguing against?”

A general philosophical chauvinism that eschews empiricism as a weaker or meaningless component of knowledge.

Ben: “What is the deal here? Your ambiguous.”

My point is based on my first post here. But I do apologize if my definition for “meaningful” and position versus the OP has not yet been made clear.

Martin said...

Steven,

What do you mean "turn the tables?"

The point doesn't have anything to do with science vs theology vs philosophy or anything else. It boils down to this:

"Hypothesis H is false, because of argument A, B, and C."

"But have you considered XYZ responses that have already been made to your argument A, B, and C?"

"Bah! I don't need to because H is false anyway! Duh!"

Crap reasoning is crap reasoning. This is something Ray Comfort would do, not so-called "defenders of reason."

In logic, there is something called the principle of charity. You are supposed to consider your opponent's argument in its best light, and even improve upon it if possible. This is a sign of good argumentation. Dismissing weak straw men versions of your opponent is a sign of dogmatism.

BenYachov said...

>I apologize if my analogy seems threatening;

No worries guy I didn't take it as a threat.

Peace.

>I mean that it has an empirical effect.

So you are assuming (without making an attempt to prove it threw philosophical argument) the philosophical view of what appears to be some sort of logical positivist empiricism?

Isn't that begging the question?

>But it’s not required to observe the empirical effect though, is it?

Except you would be saying "What the hell is that?" till you do some philosophy and try to figure out what it is and what it means.

>Observation (perception) does not require philosophy in order for an event to have meaning.

True Observation (perception) does not require philosophy in order for an event to have an empirical effect(your definition of meaning).

But what seems to me is you are merely ad hoc avoiding philosophy.

BenYachov said...

>A general philosophical chauvinism that eschews empiricism as a weaker or meaningless component of knowledge.

Empiricism is good for knowing empirical facts. Nothing more but there are clearly facts that are not empirical and can't be known via empiricism.

Nor can "meaning" be ad hoc defined as empirical effects IMHO.

But there is a primacy to philosophy since it is logically impossible to have any meaningful (purpose)knowledge without it.

Steven said...

Martin,

When Ed's responses X,Y, and Z, approach something that is tangible, probable (not just possible), and aren't broadly misinterpretable into a multitude of different branches of thought and belief, then I think responses X, Y, and Z might, at least be worth starting to consider.

Until then, it is like going down rabbit hole without knowing if you'll ever be able to find your way out again. It isn't clear at all that going down the rabbit hole has any benefit at all (which is why I'm dismissive of his attempt). From my perspective, the problem isn't the *structure* of the argument he is making, the problem is that he is making a basic category error, and my response was to show why he's making a category error.

When he can make an analogy similar to the one that I just did in favor of his theism then his original argument starts to have merit and I'll retract my contention that he's playing a game of false equivalence.

Tony Hoffman said...

Martin: “Crap reasoning is crap reasoning. This is something Ray Comfort would do, not so-called "defenders of reason." “

Agreed that close-mindedness is crap.

I believe that Steven’s point remains valid, and that is that the theologian (unlike the scientist) has no meaningful tools with which to arbitrate his argument. That is a HUGE difference between the dialogue outlined in the OP as carried on in two different scenarios – one with a closed-minded theist, and another with a closed-minded scientist. They are not on equal footing, and it seems juvenile to write a scenario that pretends they are.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Steven’s point remains valid, and that is that the theologian (unlike the scientist) has no meaningful tools with which to arbitrate his argument.

Interesting how you switch arbitrarily between "theologian" and "philosopher" as it suits you. Hand-waving much?

Martin said...

Steven and Tony,

You keep trying to rationalize this garbage reasoning by pulling theology vs science into it. Forget theology. Forget Ed Feser. Forget science.

THIS is not reasonable:

"I don't need to consider the best and most accurate arguments/evidence for X, because I already know X is stupid."

Atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg responded to the moronic Courtier's Reply exactly the same way:

"In general, in order to argue effectively against a given hypothesis, one needs to know enough to characterize that hypothesis accurately. Furthermore,
if one intends to disprove God’s existence, it is hardly reasonable to dismiss criticisms of one’s putative disproof on the grounds that God doesn’t exist anyway."

BenYachov said...

@Tony, Steve and others

I'm confused gentlemen.

What is your beef here?

Feser satirized the neanderthal anti-intellectual behavior of Fundamentalist New Atheists like Dawkins and Myers.

Let's face it their anti-philosophy nonsense is wrong & their arguments for Atheist are comical from a Classic Theistic perspective. At best they work against a low-brow Fundamentalist Theistic Personalist View of God.

A child's view of God.

Feser is an Ex-Atheist turned Theist via the study of philosophy.

Of course he is going to take shots at the Know-nothings on the Atheist side of the debate.

The question is why aren't you guys doing it? Would it kill ya to police your own?

I have no problem with Dawkins making fun of Ray Comfort's Banana argument for design since it is so spectacularly clueless as Dawkins's silly 3 page critique of Thomism.

Why so sensitive?

Anonymous said...

Since Steve is asking for a similar dialogue, I'll provide one about free will.

Libertarian: There is free will.

Skeptic: How can you prove that? To me, everything is deterministic and free will is an illusion. Thus, you can't claim responsibility for your actions.

(Libertarian grabs a police baton and proceeds to beat the Skeptic, breaking some ribs)

Skeptic: OWWWW! WHY!? HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME, YOU INSENSITIVE JERK?!?!

Libertarian: I don't know, I don't have free will. It's just an illusion that I decided to beat your ass.

--

In before someone says this doesn't prove anything. If you do, you don't have a sense of humor and your mama didn't love you.

Steven said...

Martin and Ben,

Let me put it this way. I don't think I would characterize the use of the courtier's reply in quite the way you are.

The original use of it was in response to some criticisms by Terry Eagleton whose arguments were (in my opinion) entirely incoherent and on par with the nonsense often spouted by folks like Deepak Chopra. I certainly wouldn't call this a case of dismissing proposition H because arguments X (in support of H) are stupid. It is more like refusing to engage arguments X because they don't really go anywhere and even if they did, they don't really support H in the first place. That's not necessarily a dismissal of proposition H, it is the dismissal of a line of argument X that purports to support H but doesn't really support H, even if we were to assume that X is sound.

Now, if you want to complain about the lack of charity in that kind of response, so be it. But, given that both Dawkins and PZ Myers seem to be more interested in polemics than in real discourse, such complaints are likely to fall on deaf ears.

At least that's my take on it.

clamat said...

(Part 1 of 2)

Hello all,

I don’t have time to address each discrete point that’s been made, some of them very good (and some not so good), so I hope you’ll understand if I respond primarily to a few which seem more or less representative.

I thought my response to you, as well as most others, was pretty polite and fair.

Most were. I appreciate it. I suppose in addition to reactive teeth-baring I should have been equally on guard against self-perceived slights.

Re: the “New Atheists”: You'll also be defined by who you associate with, your own and other's actions, etc.

No doubt. And, in my experience, the atheists with whom I associate who would also call themselves “New” don’t reject philosophy out of hand, and actually have read quite a bit of it. Some of them I’d venture have read as much as, if not more than, most of the people on this board (though I’m certainly not one of them). In short, I think the term encompasses a broader set of approaches and worldviews than Ed’s parody allows.

More to the point of the OP: I’ve never seen either Dawkins or Myers say anything like “reject all philosophy.” Maybe one has, but I haven’t seen it. Rather, they dismiss religious philosophy and theology. But do you really think neither Dawkins nor Myers has ever read any religious philosophy or theology? Isn’t it likely that they’ve both read quite a bit, found it unconvincing, contradictory and entirely unsettled century after century? Similarly, as Ismael notes, some of the New Atheists are bona-fide philosophers. When are they and we justified in saying, with regard to the God Question, “y’all get back to us when you’ve reached something resembling a consensus on any of the old arguments, or have achieved a real breakthrough on something new”?

I get the feeling that, in order to downplay philosophy in favor of science, you try to establish something akin to Gould's non-overlapping magisteria.

and

You are speaking like philosophy and science are mutually exclusive.

No, I’m not. Like I said above, philosophy informs science, and vice-versa. Politics informs art, and vice-versa. Art informs philosophy, and vice-versa. I think, basically, everything overlaps. Except the Natural and the Supernatural, of course. (Joke! Joke! Pleas don’t yell at me!) But does that mean we aren’t justified in considering any area of intellectual endeavor to be “discrete”?

clamat said...

(Part 2 of 2 – and then I’m gone for a while)

And I think science is discrete in an important, truly unique way:

Similarly, there can be no "advance" in knowledge on whether Yeats is a better poet than Shelley.

First, Yeats kicks Shelley’s ass. I mean, his middle name is “Bysshe” for God’s sake. Bysshe? Sounds like a deflating tire. As does his poetry. Snap!

“Advance in knowledge” is entirely my point. It seems to me science is the only area in which our “knowledge” can be said to advance in any meaningful way. At the very least, the exponential trajectory of scientific knowledge over the short history of the discipline demonstrates that it is the most powerful, most effective means of obtaining knowledge. Period. Again, I think this is really significant.

Science has given us nuclear energy and the H-bomb... bu science can NOT tell us how to use them.

So what definitive answers has ethics given us on how we should use nuclear energy and the H-bomb? Again, my point is that all the claims that “philosophy tells us what we should do” really mean “one philosophy says “do this,” another tells you “do that.” My point is that most here would put the “knowledge” gained by philosophy on par with the knowledge gained by science. Sorry, but I don’t think they’re even close.

Democracy is not accepted unanimously, yet I am sure you are convinced that it's the best form of government.

Well, there are all forms of democracy, but basically, agreed. But I don’t “know” democracy is the best form of government in the same way we know pasteurization works. I believe “All Men Are Created Equal,” but I don’t know of any test data that proves it.

There is no such thing as “moral knowledge” in the same sense as there is scientific knowledge. I repeat: What moral knowledge do we hold with anywhere near the same certainty as we hold the knowledge that viruses cause disease or E=mc2? Even the most commonly-held moral “certainties” can be easily shown to be anything but. Everyone agrees that “Thou shalt do no murder.” But “murder” is a legal term, meaning, basically, “wrongful killing.” What’s “wrongful”? Has philosophy come to anything near a consensus on this in the thousands of years it has asked the question? Do we now know know what is “wrong”? I submit we don’t.

So, in answering the God Question, what philosophical knowledge can you bring to bear? I’m asking this both rhetorically and seriously. There are large gaps in my knowledge of philosophy. Maybe there are some settled philosophical questions that significantly inform any analysis of the God Question. If so, I’d really be interested in seeing them.

Finally,

@BenYachov

So let me get this straight. It's not bigotry for your heroes Dawkins and Myers to define all religious people without exception as irrational, ignorant, deluded and of course bigoted for believing in God.

(1) Where did I say Dawkins and Myers are my “heroes”? I said I’m grateful to them for giving me the courage to come out as an atheist, but I agree with some things they say, and disagree with others. Sometimes I have even changed my mind about one thing they have said or another. After reading a lot of other stuff, I still think they are correct on the Big Issue, so I also am glad they are good polemecists. See, this is the thing: So many of you guys are wedded to your sacred texts and so lionize their defenders you simply assume we all think the same way as you do. We don’t.

(2) Where did I say it’s not bigotry?

This is what I meant by “reactive teeth-baring.” Next time, maybe actually read what I write with an iota of care, and respond to that, you quoque, you.

BenYachov said...

>So many of you guys are wedded to your sacred texts and so lionize their defenders you simply assume we all think the same way as you do. We don’t.

>This is what I meant by “reactive teeth-baring.” etc

Fair enough. My apologizes to you. Correction received.

But never the less my advise don't call yourself a New Atheist it is not a positive term these days.

Dr. Plank said...

"There is no such thing as “moral knowledge” in the same sense as there is scientific knowledge. I repeat: What moral knowledge do we hold with anywhere near the same certainty as we hold the knowledge that viruses cause disease or E=mc2?"

But the point is the we DON'T know such that viruses cause disease or that e=mc2, because we don't even know if there is an external world. Science (as the New Aths use it) operates on the assumption that there is such a world, but where is the proof of that? We only accept it because it is so intuitive, and thus scientific knoledge ends up on a par with the sort of moral certainties you rail against as being nothing of the kind - maybe they aren't, but who can do better?

BenYachov said...

However this I can't agree with.

>Dawkins and Myers....so I also am glad they are good polemecists.

Actually they suck royally. I'm sorry but that is like saying Ray Confort is a great intellectual defender of Christianity.

Doesn't pass the laugh test.

Machie, Graham Oppy or Smith are good polemecists against theism.

Dawkins and Myers such out loud.

You have to read better people. I haven't read ANSWERS IN GENESIS in 20 years.

BenYachov said...

>But do you really think neither Dawkins nor Myers has ever read any religious philosophy or theology?

They said as much. They equated being knowledgeable in religion with being experts in Fairy lore as a prerequisite for disbelief in fairies.

Martin said...

But do you really think neither Dawkins nor Myers has ever read any religious philosophy or theology?

No. They haven't. In exactly the same way that Comfort makes it crystal clear he dismisses evolution without a shred of understanding of it, Dawkins and Myers do the same for philosophy of religion. Dawkins' treatment of Aquinas and Anselm in The God Delusion is so embarrassing it literally makes me shiver.

Crude said...

So many of you guys are wedded to your sacred texts and so lionize their defenders you simply assume we all think the same way as you do. We don’t.

"So many of you bigots all think alike." Heh.

Where in this thread do you ground the assumption that the prevailing opinion of self-described New Atheists is due to 'Being wedded to our sacred texts' and 'Lionizing all its defenders' and 'Thinking atheists do the same by analogy'? Why can't it be that our experiences - maybe even our overwhelming experiences - are what inform us on this point? 'Lionizing defenders' doesn't take place, certainly, since criticism is also aimed at many of the defenders.

Ed himself, along with others in this thread if I recall, has praised a number of atheists - Smith, Mackie, Smart, etc - as being head and shoulders above New Atheists in terms of content and thought, despite their atheism.

Maybe you were doing the 'You guys assume we all think the way all of you do, but thinking we all think such a way is bigoted' thing as comedy, though.

clamat said...

Fire is out, back sooner than I thought, but only very briefly.

But the point is the we DON'T know such that viruses cause disease or that e=mc2, because we don't even know if there is an external world.

…umm…Poe? Is that you? If so, kudos.

Assuming not…

One of the reasons I remain suspicious of philosophy is because it leads otherwise intelligent people to spout such philosophically-justified, utterly useless crap.

Yes, Dr. Plank, I presuppose the external world exists. However, from this point on I will presuppose you do not.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dr. Plank, I presuppose the external world exists. However, from this point on I will presuppose you do not.

He actually does accept it. His point was that it's not something that you should just presuppose and be comfortable with, just because.

Don't conflate the validity of science, which we all accept, with the soundness of its basic assumptions, which we believe has to be argued for.

Tony Hoffman said...

Ben: “Feser satirized the neanderthal anti-intellectual behavior of Fundamentalist New Atheists like Dawkins and Myers.”

That is a foolishly bigoted thing to say. Dawkins has authored one of the most intellectually stimulating books of the last 25 years – The Selfish Gene. (The Blind Watchmaker is also an awesome, if not so breathtaking, read.) It’s stunning to me how few theists understand that Dawkins was first one of the great popularizers of scientific understanding, as important as Asimov and Sagan, long before he came out as a critic of religion. You can say that Dawkins has a low regard for religion and theology, and that he is not trained in philosophy, but to call him anti-intellectual just makes you look foolish.

I have to ask -- have you read of either of Dawkins books I mentioned above? Are you aware of the standing it has among not just scientists, but intellectuals among all walks of life? (http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/1547).

Ben: “Let's face it their anti-philosophy nonsense is wrong & their arguments for Atheist are comical from a Classic Theistic perspective.”

Right, got that one. And while I recognize Dawkins philosophical mistakes, I think he is right in that no one from the theology side seems to be able to pony up and make meaningful exactly what it is that he is missing.

BenYachov said...

>That is a foolishly bigoted thing to say. Dawkins has authored one of the most intellectually stimulating books of the last 25 years – The Selfish Gene. (The Blind Watchmaker is also an awesome, if not so breathtaking, read.)

I am not & would not claim Dawkins is not in fact competent in his own field. It is when the ventures out of that field he makes an Ass out of himself. BTW both David Stove and Mary Miglely have countered Dawkins view on the Selfish Gene and they are both Atheists.

But never the less the THE GOD DELUSION was clearly written by an idiot.

>I think he is right in that no one from the theology side seems to be able to pony up and make meaningful exactly what it is that he is missing.

Then you are a mindless fan boy who has never read even one of his critics Atheist or Theist. Philosopher & Liberal Process Theologian Eric Retain did an excellent take down of the GOD DELUSION. So did Feser, McGrath etc....

Atheist philosophers Thomas Nagel and Michael Ruse have both said his criticisms of religion and philosophy are amateurish.

He is anti-intellectual and a useless bigot. He is good at defending Evolution. That's it. That is all he is good for.

But no Thomist worth his salt thinks Evolution is a threat to classic theism.

Crude said...

You can say that Dawkins has a low regard for religion and theology, and that he is not trained in philosophy, but to call him anti-intellectual just makes you look foolish.

Being a popular writer, even a popular science writer, doesn't mean a person is therefore an intellectual no matter what they do. John Sanford created the Gene Gun, he has a brilliant academic track record - and he's now a young earth creationist. If John Sanford can escape the anti-intellectualism charge, he's not going to be doing so simply by virtue of his past exploits.

I think he is right in that no one from the theology side seems to be able to pony up and make meaningful exactly what it is that he is missing.

Dawkins wouldn't know even if they did. He eschews theology and philosophy, remember? Not worth his time.

Dr. Plank said...

"One of the reasons I remain suspicious of philosophy is because it leads otherwise intelligent people to spout such philosophically-justified, utterly useless crap."

I can't follow this 'argument'.

"Yes, Dr. Plank, I presuppose the external world exists."

And I shall presuppose that God exists! Everyone's a winner!

clamat said...

@Dr. Plank

I can't follow this 'argument'.

Likely because it isn’t an argument, but a conclusion that you are spouting philosophically-justified, yet utterly useless crap.

That said…

And I shall presuppose that God exists! Everyone's a winner!

…made me laugh out loud.

Boz said...

Op said: "But replace terms like “science,” “physicists,” “quarks,” etc. with terms like “theism,” “philosophers,” “God,” etc."

The analogy does not hold because quarks are detectable and yahweh is not.

clamat said...

@Dr. Plank

Even though you’re only a figment of my imagination…

The reason “Because we don’t even know the external world exists, scientific and moral knowledge are on a par” is useless crap:

“Because we don’t even know the external world exists, scientific knowledge and Ouija-Board-Knowledge are on a par.” Or;

“Because we don’t even know the external world exists, scientific knowledge and Reading-My-Cat’s-Droppings-Knowledge are on a par.”

We can readily tell Ouija Board Knowledge is not on a par, by testing the predictions made by the Ouija Board and analyzing the data from those tests. Hmm, why does that process sound familiar?

Martin said...

clamat,

What I believe Dr Plank is getting at is that there is no empirical evidence that the external world is real, and yet we are all rational to believe that it is.

It's a rejoinder to the typical atheist line that we should only believe something if there is empirical evidence for it.

The other typical examples include the existence of consciousness other than your own, the reality of the past, etc.

Anonymous said...

clamat, I clarified to you in my post from 1:11 PM what Dr. Plank meant. He's not denying the existence of the external world, he just doesn't presuppose it in a just-because manner.

Martin's got it right.

Dr. Plank said...

clamat,

Sure, there is an obvious sense in which ouija boards and scientific knowledge (whatever that might be, but I know what you mean) are not on a par. One works, the other doesn't. Does that mean you are justified in believing in the one that works? If so, such a criterion can also be deployed by theists - the theist can say that the existence of God works for him, gives his life meaning, helps him to get through the day, etc.

So this is the challenge atheists face: provide a way of solving the apparent lack of justification for our belief in the external world in a way that the theist cannot also likewise apprpriate to justify his theism.

I suppose this is pretty much the argument that Plantinga gives in God and Other Minds.

clamat said...

@Dr. Plank

So this is the challenge atheists face: provide a way of solving the apparent lack of justification for our belief in the external world in a way that the theist cannot also likewise appropriate to justify his theism.

First, how does this “challenge” only go one way? Consider: “Naturalism gives my life meaning, helps me get through the day, etc. I know it works for me. Prove it doesn’t.” If naturalism, atheism, empiricism, theism, etc., are equally justified by the notion that “we can’t prove the external world.” So of what use is it to posit “we can’t prove the external world”?

The “challenge” can be easily met by both sides. Here’s how:

“Anybody here actually believe the external world doesn’t exist? Anybody? No? O.K., then, it’s settled, the external world exists. Let’s move on.”

See, this is where I hate philosophy. Every sane person agrees agrees the external world exists. In terms of answering the God Question, this can and should be our starting point. It doesn’t matter that we can’t prove the external world exists, any more than it matters whether we can prove Achilles can catch up to the tortoise. We all !@#$!* know Achilles can catch up to the tortoise! Zeno is an interesting philosophical paradox, but it’s not a real-world paradox.

In terms of the discussion we are having on this board, and between you and me, whether the external world exists is a settled question. You can’t then backtrack and say “but we don’t know the external world exists” for the purpose of putting “empiric knowledge” with “theistic knowledge.”

Moreover, if the best you can say is that “we can’t truly know anything beyond Descartes,” if we truly Cannot Know, with regard to the God Question, how can you possibly justify any position but pure agnosticism?

One works, the other doesn't.

Science -- well, to draw the analogy and terminology closer, empiricism. To draw it even closer, naturalism -- works in all the ways you have identified that theism does (gives my life meaning, helps me get through the day, etc.). And empiricism also works in ways theism absolutely does not.

Nick said...

I did see Loftus's "reply" just now.

The guy is always good for a laugh!

It boils down to "How dare those ignorant theists disagree with me?! I'm John Loftus!"

Dr. Plank said...

"First, how does this “challenge” only go one way? Consider: “Naturalism gives my life meaning, helps me get through the day, etc. I know it works for me. Prove it doesn’t.” If naturalism, atheism, empiricism, theism, etc., are equally justified by the notion that “we can’t prove the external world.” So of what use is it to posit “we can’t prove the external world”?"

(I only offered that justification after you offered your pragmatic criterion, I don't actually endorse your criterion.) The response is that, well, fine, in that case they are all justified for different individuals who finds whichever one working for them. Then the atheist and the theist can both go home and get on with their lives. If your criterion is the appropriate one, then that is the lesson drawn from the question of an external world.

"See, this is where I hate philosophy. Every sane person agrees agrees the external world exists. In terms of answering the God Question, this can and should be our starting point. It doesn’t matter that we can’t prove the external world exists, any more than it matters whether we can prove Achilles can catch up to the tortoise."

Do you agree that:

1) We are rational in believing in an external world without being able to prove it?

If so, then this has ramifications for the rationality of belief in God (or anything for that matter). What it is the explains the truth of (1) (whatever that might be) can be employed by the theist in defense of his theism, or so I claim. As you point out, everyone agrees that

2) There is an external world,

but that is clearly not the same thing as (1).

"Moreover, if the best you can say is that “we can’t truly know anything beyond Descartes,” if we truly Cannot Know, with regard to the God Question, how can you possibly justify any position but pure agnosticism?"

I think we can know there is an external world - we know via intuition. But intuition is what philosophy is pretty much the study of, and that is why a study of philosophy confers justified belief in God and other things.

"Science -- well, to draw the analogy and terminology closer, empiricism. To draw it even closer, naturalism -- works in all the ways you have identified that theism does (gives my life meaning, helps me get through the day, etc.). And empiricism also works in ways theism absolutely does not."

I feel I should say: I heartily disagree with this. I think naturalism is hopeless at explaining morality, meaning, consciousness, beauty, fine-tuing, the law-like nature of the universe, the existence of contingent facts, biological complexity, religious experience, the reliability of our cognitive faculties, etc. etc. blah blah. But theism does a fine job.

Since you have a scientific bent, It might help if you view these facts as if they are 'God detectors' which have been triggered.

As for your desire for unanimity, well, these are deep and complex waters. All we can do is tread them as carefully and with as much intellectual integrity as we can muster in the hope that we will be granted enough light to see the truth.

Parting shot: if you woke up tomorrow and half the scientific world was suddenly arguing for heliocentrism, presenting arguments which had a strong ring of plausibility to them but which you ultimately thought were mistaken, would you abandon a belief in non-heliocentrism? I wouldn't, and I think this suffices to show that rational investigation doesn't require unanimity in the sense which you desire. Because that is pretty much the way I view atheism in the philosophy of religion - they can present arguments with a ring of plausibility, but I Have good reason to think they are mistaken.

clamat said...

Hello all,

I’m needed back in heathen territory, so must away. I do appreciate your time and the civil exchange.

To those still monitoring, however, I’ll part with a few questions. I suggested them a couple of times above, but haven’t yet seen a response. Yes, they are intended to challenge all of you who have endorsed the utility of religious philosophy and theology, but they’re also a sincere request for information. Like I said, I recognize that my knowledge of religious philosophy is spotty; if any of you can take the time to read the questions and give me some recommendations, I’d appreciate it.

For me, the general topic of discussion has been whether philosophy/theology has, will, or can make any progress in answering the “God Question.” For me, the basic God Question is threefold: (1) Is there a God? If so, (2) what is its nature, and (3) what does it want from us, if anything?

But for present purposes, let’s start with the First Question: Is There a God?

My specific questions to you are:

1) Have any philosophic issues that necessarily inform any analysis of the First Question been settled?

I don’t mean that they have been settled for you personally, I mean that they have been settled as a matter of philosophy generally. I’m not asking for unanimity, there will always be outliers, but what issues do you believe a great majority of philosophers would say “yeah, we’re done with that one.”

I suppose Dr. Plank would say it’s been settled that empirical evidence is not necessary to hold rational beliefs (or something like that). Any others?

2) If so, which settled issues support an affirmative answer to the First Question? Not “doesn’t negate an affirmative answer,” but supports an affirmative answer.

3) If you have time, can you briefly say how you think those settled issues support an affirmative answer to the First Question?

4) If you have time, can you recommend any further reading that discusses how those settled issues support an affirmative answer the First Question?

I’m sure I could have phrased all of that more precisely, but I think you know what I’m going for. Thanks again for any help.

clamat

Dr. Plank said...

"For me, the general topic of discussion has been whether philosophy/theology has, will, or can make any progress in answering the “God Question.”"

Part of the problem is that progress is ambiguous - we are certianly increaing in our awareness and understanding of the problems, but little progress has been made if all you mean is acheiving a consensus.

"1) Have any philosophic issues that necessarily inform any analysis of the First Question been settled?"

At least two have: 1) God talk was of questionable meaningfulness back in early to mid 20th C. No-one things God-talk is meaningless now. 2) 99% agree that the logical problem of evil has been refuted - most discussion now revolves around the evidential problem of evil.

As a general rule theistic arguments have got stronger over the past 60 years. As a theist I would say that they have raised the prob. of God's existence from about .8 to .9. An atheist would likely say they have been raised from about .1 to .2. But most will agree they have been raised.

But there isn't really any consensus in phil. of rel. beyond that.

But I think there is another consensus in the phil. of phil.: most of them think that a desire for consensus is inappropriate and of litte epistemic weight!

Tony Hoffman said...

Plank: "God talk was of questionable meaningfulness back in early to mid 20th C. No-one things God-talk is meaningless now."

I think (theistic) God talk is meaningless. And I'm so not alone.

And that is the pivotal point of the chief objection here to the OP. I'll repeat the objection.

Scientists can answer skeptics in a meaningful way -- they can point to observations, make predictions, and provide good explanations. Scientists do not need to resort to the Courtier's reply, and that is why the OP fails to effectively satirize its target -- naturalists' verbiage is not empty because it relates to things that are meaningful.

So far the response to this objection seems to be either strawman the objection above, or assert some supposed failing of Dawkins or Myers (as if any personal failing of an individual has anything to do with countering the argument).

Dr. Plank said...

"I think (theistic) God talk is meaningless. And I'm so not alone."

With respect, that is because you have no idea what you are talking about.

Scientists can answer skeptics in a meaningful way -- they can point to observations, make predictions, and provide good explanations.

Yes, but theists claim the same thing. Morality, meaning, consciousness, beauty, fine-tuing, the law-like nature of the universe, the existence of contingent facts, biological complexity, religious experience, the reliability of our cognitive faculties, etc. etc. are our observations. These things are much more likely given theism than atheism - this satisfies the predictive requirement - and so we posit God as an explanation. So theism satisfies all the strictures you lay out.


you are asserting your position, not arguing for it.

Tony Hoffman said...

Plank: "With respect, that is because you have no idea what you are talking about."

Funny that you would say the above without providing a reason for saying this. Is this how discussions normally go here?

Plank: "Morality, meaning, consciousness, beauty, fine-tuing, the law-like nature of the universe, the existence of contingent facts, biological complexity, religious experience, the reliability of our cognitive faculties, etc. etc. are our observations. These things are much more likely given theism than atheism - this satisfies the predictive requirement - and so we posit God as an explanation. So theism satisfies all the strictures you lay out."

You appear to be confusing observations, experiences, inferences, and predictions above. (For instance, does one "observe" a religious experience? I don't think so.) But you are correct that theists can point to observations -- I didn't mean to imply that they could not, if that is how you understood me.

But my biggest problem with your statement above is that I believe you are mis0-appropriating the term "prediction" (as you said, "predictive requirement"). I don't believe that anything in your list above constitutes a prediction -- I would classify them all as either observations or inferences.

For instance, how is it that you "predict" fine tuning?

Dr. Plank said...

"For instance, how is it that you "predict" fine tuning?"

If the probability of fine-tuning given theism is say 1/1,000,000 (which I think is being pretty generous to the atheist), and the probability of fine tuning given atheism is 1/1,000,000,000, then while it may not seem to make sense to say that theism (by itself, as it were) predicts fine-tuning, it does make sense to claim that theism is much more predictively succesful in this regard than atheism is.

This is why the New Atheist clamour for predictions is too simplistic - what is at stake is often comparative probability.

Tony Hoffman said...

Plank: "If the probability of fine-tuning given theism is say 1/1,000,000 (which I think is being pretty generous to the atheist), and the probability of fine tuning given atheism is 1/1,000,000,000, then while it may not seem to make sense to say that theism (by itself, as it were) predicts fine-tuning, it does make sense to claim that theism is much more predictively succesful in this regard than atheism is."

No, I disagree completely.

In order to determine the prior probability of a universe being fine-tuned, we need to be able to observe universes. How many universes have we observed?

Also, how is it that theism predicts the one thing that both theism and naturalism observe. I get the feeling that you define the word "predict" differently than I do. So, I have to ask, how are you defining the word "predict?"

Anonymous said...

After getting into a fight over at PZ's blog, I started to realize that the issue is far deeper than intellectual dishonesty or bad faith. It motivated me to read a book on cognative science--which I think is the exact field that can shine light on why people can disagree so agressively even while having the exact same set of evidence. I recommend others to read a bit on cognative science.

The "skeptic" above isn't being dishonest...his life experiences and even genetics have influenced the "reality" his mind has constructed. The "facts" you debate with him are only a small fraction of his overall reasons for holdnig the view he has. Plus, if he was convinced that he was wrong about an issue like this, his understanding of reality could unravel, so his mind has an incentive not to allow this to happen.

Metacrock said...

"The "skeptic" above isn't being dishonest...his life experiences and even genetics have influenced the "reality" his mind has constructed. The "facts" you debate with him are only a small fraction of his overall reasons for holdnig the view he has. Plus, if he was convinced that he was wrong about an issue like this, his understanding of reality could unravel, so his mind has an incentive not to allow this to happen."

>>>the problem is many skeptics (not all but many) are not honest in terms of the materiel. They wont read it, they will make big pronouncements on things such as "theology is stupid." you ask them 'how much theology have you actually read?' they go "I don't have to read that stuff I know it's stupid." That's not just dishoenst it's a crime against reason.

how far would you get with that line in a real actual structured debate with a judge and at a tournament?

Ismael said...

I think (theistic) God talk is meaningless. And I'm so not alone.



Well there are some who think Hitler was right in exterminating the Jews too and they are not alone either.

Hey perhaps Dawkins and Myers (but are too coward to admit) think that… after all it’s less religious people around, c’est pas?

---------

Scientists can answer skeptics in a meaningful way -- they can point to observations, make predictions, and provide good explanations. Scientists do not need to resort to the Courtier's reply, and that is why the OP fails to effectively satirize its target -- naturalists' verbiage is not empty because it relates to things that are meaningful.



That's were you are wrong: you make a lot of false assumptions. Your arguments are fully circular, since you start from your conclusion and come back to it full circle without really bringing anything meaningful to the table.

Philosophers and Theologians can point towards metaphysical arguments, strong logic and reasoning.

Philosophical and theological verbiage is not empty either, but ALSO relates to meaningful concepts.

Crying 'Courtier's reply' it's just the way for a lazy or even malicious atheist to refuse to understand what he's talking about.

Indeed an anti-science skeptic as in Feser's Example can just as well scream 'Courtier's Reply' even if the scientist points towards direct observations or empirical data.

The skeptic in the story refuses the scientist conclusion A PRIORI without even considering his argument.

It really DOES NOT MATTER that the scientist is telling the truth or is telling a fairytale, the point is that the skeptic in the story dismisses the scientist arguments a priori, without investigating them and making sure if they are true and logical.

That is the very same thing new atheists do when they call 'Courtier's Reply'.

So your argument, and Dawkins and Myers argument as well, is completely fallacious and right out illogical.

In the end you need to be honest with yourself.
You do not accept theist arguments? Ok, but at least have a shroud of pride and honesty and admit you are either too lazy or to stupid to understand them.

clamat said...

Epilogue:


http://philpapers.org/archive/DIETIN.1.pdf

Cripdyke said...

derpderp said:
Ask the chap to name ONE that has happened specifically in the name of atheism. If he names anything, just tell him he is a liar or confused about atheism for being some kind of positive and constructive ideology or belief.


Ummm. Right at this moment there is a conference happening in LasVegas in the name of atheism. Conferences are in fact organized and attended all the time in the name of atheism. In fact, this blog post exists because atheists write on behalf of spreading rationalism, empiricism and atheism all the time.

Your comment existing in this space, then, disproves what your comment argues.

Anonymous said...

Utterly marvellous! This very much mirrors my own experiences and summarizes them very well.

TMLutas said...

Eric - Regarding your Golgi apparatus conversion story, I think it entirely unremarkable and familiar especially to protestants who put such conversion stories near the center of their religious practice. Look up the phrase "altar call" and you'll see the spectacle, the commitment to fly true and the public declaration that one is now convinced.

Arthur said...

I realize the discussion died down a long time ago here, but here are a few thoughts on some of the objections raised about philosophy and theology.

Philosophy makes little/no progress
I think it's a mistake to think that every field needs to make "progress". Philosophical knowledge is relatively timeless, and that's an important difference. Saying that "Philosophy makes no progress, unlike science!" may simply mean "Philosophy isn't enough like science!" It's not supposed to be like science and it doesn't have to be. It's philosophy, a distinct (though related) topic. For instance, the Principle of Charity we apply now is the same one the ancient Greeks used. I can almost guarantee that we aren't going to "discover" much more about it or make much "progress" in our understanding of it, but why would we need to? The principle is just fine the way it is; all we need to do it apply it. You could even consider Science's ability to change as a weakness, not a strength; Science changes because it has to, Philosophy remains the same because it's knowledge is timeless.

There is no consensus in philosophy
Firstly, it's worth pointing out that "Philosophy" can easily be defined in the first place as being about questions on which we have little consensus, so there's a whiff of the tautological to this complaint. If you want an example of an uncontroversial bit of philosophy, try The Law of Identity. Finally, as has been pointed out by others, it seems unreasonable to demand that there be consensus about something before you believe it to be true. Think of atheism. Most of the world's population are theists, but do you doubt your atheism and demand consensus? Nah, that'd be much too consistent.

Scientists can show that they are correct with empirical evidence, but philosophers/theologians can't appeal to anything similar
I don't know quite how to put this, but I can suggest the shape of an answer. Take an uncontroversial principle like Occam's Razor (a good place to start, since is intersects Science and Philosophy). Now, how would you arbitrate between the following propositions?

i) Occam's Razor is a rational principle
ii) Occam's Razor is NOT a rational principle

Not a hard challenge, is it? The first proposition is obviously true, the second obviously false. So how can you tell? Surely not by some science experiment or empirical consideration, but by reason. You think about it, trust your reason, and reach a conclusion. In the end, philosophy is just rational thinking; it's nothing more arcane than that. Science can appeal to empirical evidence and predictions, and Philosophy can appeal to reason.

This isn't to imply, of course, that all philosophy is this easy; there are much more difficult questions out there. I propose, however, that answering them is no different in principle from discovering whether Occam's Razor is rational. If you find Aristotelian metaphysics hard, or can’t see what it means or why you’re supposed to believe it, fine, but that’s not an insoluble problem any more than “Is Occam’s Razor rational?” is an insoluble problem.

Anonymous said...

Hi, in case it matters, I just wanted to say that this former new atheist has come around to accepting this is a valid critique and I cringe at the thought of being exactly what you've illustrated I was. For that (and, for whatever it's worth) I'm sorry.

And thank you. It's liberating! Amazingly so. I now feel free to accept whatever argument is the most persuasive to me at any given time. I'm reading The Last Superstition at the moment and I can really, honestly say I'm able to read it with a genuinely open mind. I truly don't care if it is true or if it is false, I just want to absorb the information and then decide.

I've now decided I'm far to ignorant about the subject at hand and there is far too much information I'm unaware of (or vaguely aware of) to allow myself to decide on a label. So at any rate, thanks.

Anonymous said...

The simple difference between a scientist and a religious person defending their point of view is that scientist have provable evidence, while religious people have a book. Please derive an experiment that can prove the validity of a book. When you can do that, get back to us.

Anonymous said...

I think you're being very harsh here. I agree, there are some who act somewhat similarly to this, and they have their points sometimes, just as the religious side has its own points sometimes, but please don't use science as a scapegoat. Plenty of the people you refer to as "new atheists" aren't at all involved with science and as somebody who is involved with science I admit that I don't know enough about certain religions to damn them (and even if I did, I realise the wrong I would be doing in damning somebody's beliefs when I have no solid proof or evidence to the contrary. Nobody can really judge the worth of any religion and the best disproof anybody has is Occam's razor). I therefore find it hurtful that you seem to use this passage to suggest that all science is against religion.
However, whilst I don't agree with the way you have put your point across, I do see the underlying point about ignorance, and I find it very interesting and I do agree with it (though have you ever considered that those like Dawkins and Myers do know more about religion than you think, but have just formed their own views from what they have read?)

Skrato said...

Seriously? You put ridiculing science - with hundreds of years of evidence behind it, with views that constantly change when proven wrong, with millions of research papers published every year - on the same level as ridiculing religion - which is by definition based on archaic texts, restricted in its views by the scripture it follows, based on the backwards culture of people from 2000 years ago, with no evidence or proof behind it - is this even a serious point?

Lyle Rohr said...

First line of the first argument- already lost, "Scientists believe in these things called 'quarks'."

This 'belief' is not that of faith. No scientist takes it on faith that quarks exist. They theorize that quarks exist as research based on empirical data points to something like quarks.

As an aside, I'm pretty sure the theory of the existence of quarks never spurred war between people who believe in 'querks' rather than 'quarks'.

Mr. Green said...

—When you can do that, get back to us.
—is this even a serious point?
—First line of the first argument- already lost


Living examples of the very point being made?

Anonymous: I therefore find it hurtful that you seem to use this passage to suggest that all science is against religion.

But of course he's not; that's the very sort of caricature being mocked.

State of Head said...

I don't think anyone seriously suggests that after studying theist philosophy or Thomism, that you would come out the end convinced God exists or that the arguments prove that. You could easily come to conclusions the so-called New Atheists such as Dawkins hold. I would then not expect him to be obliged to go into the laborious details of arguments and counter arguments, although I can understand why Thomists are peeved.

I find Thomist arguments unconvincing but that is just me, but it is unfortunate on this blog there is little in the content or the reply of followers to offer much in the way of rationale discourse. There are more ad homs and un-Christianly gloatish pride.

David B Marshall said...

Feser is unfair. He wants to give people who know stuff, and have read a bunch of books, an undemocratic advantage over people who spent their undergrad years blowing up alien spacecraft in video arcades. If he had his way, people would have to use words like "I don't know," again, the Internet would collapse, the world economy would fall into a depression, and people would have to go back to reading books, like in the Dark Ages.

Author, the Truth Behind the New Atheism

Gabriel said...

LOL! Oh man! So many of the comments here (especially the later ones, I'm talking 2012 here) actually prove Feser's post!
Do they not hear themselves? What's the point in trying to explain anything to them, when they refuse to even listen?

JAFHR said...

Am sending a copy to every single atheist I know. This is gold dust.