So Larry has responded. Go read it. I’ll wait….
Back? Good. Let me address some of the points there. Not all of them, because most of them I have already addressed in previous posts. I’ll link them at the end of this one. But the most important ones.
The first and most important one is that Larry agrees with me about “begging the question”. This is good. It means we are both prescriptivists with respect to technical terminology and that gives us a common foundation. It also means Larry has impeccable sensibilities.
He says that he is unaware of any scientist who argues that philosophy is to be rejected or denigrated because it isn’t scientific. And yet, in a case of apparent self-unawareness, that is exactly the view he has been pushing for some time, and it is also the view that Mlodinow and Hawking, Krauss and other scientists have also been pushing for a while now. I think of it, and we can call it, the Feynman Position (“philosophers are to science as ornithologists are to birds”). It is inherent in the books by Victor Stenger (The God Hypothesis) and Dawkins’ own books. Philosophy is fine if it agrees that religion is irrational or something not to be taken seriously. But when it dares to suggest that we might consider a view, like guided evolution by God, in order to determine whether or not a theist must of necessity be anti-Darwinian (and that given that Darwinian evolution is a fact we have thereby discredited theism), as Elliot Sober has done, then that is the idiocy and arrogance of philosophy!
I have argued exactly along the lines Sober (and Ruse, and many others) have done: there is a conceptual coherence between at least one kind of providentialism and Darwinian evolution. Am I therefore arrogant? None of these philosophers – exactly none of them – have ever argued that facts are open to negotiation by religious or conceptual worldview. They are all very much pro-science. Sober has even written many books defending the inferential and conceptual coherence of Darwinian evolution, especially of natural selection. So if they think facts are facts, and that evolution occurs, what harm is there in considering whether someone who is religious might be able to hold theism and Darwinian evolution with all its accidents and contingencies simultaneously?
There is only one real reason why this might arouse Larry’s and the others’ ire: theism is false and so arguments that show someone might be a good scientist and religious are pernicious. In short, this is about accommodationism, which Larry has often railed against before. Religion and science are simply not, he says, compatible in any fashion. If a philosopher who is not religious, like Michael Ruse or Elliot Sober or Massimo Pigliucci, or someone as innocuous as me holds that they might be, we are anti science at heart. We are arrogant. We are foolish.
But a philosopher must proceed on what has come to be known as the Principle of Charity, and to argue with others as if they were at least trying to be reasonable. We cannot presume ab initio that our preferred view is right. Maybe religion and science are not only compatible, but even need each other. I don’t think so, but I can’t begin an argument on that presumption. To do so would undercut the very idea of reasoned discourse. The principle of charity requires us to reconstruct our interlocutor’s position and argument in the best possible fashion on the assumption they are honest and intelligent, and to argue against that (or be convinced, if it turns out the argument succeeds). Neither Larry nor Coyne seem to do this when considering the religious view.
I am not, I repeat not, arguing for there being “different ways of knowledge” here, although that is an interesting topic in its own right. Larry’s constant repetition of this claim is a red herring. I am not trying to produce knowledge, nor, to my best awareness, have I ever done so, except accidentally and then as a historian of ideas, not as a philosopher. Philosophy does not produce knowledge; that is the job of science. Philosophy examines ways knowledge is claimed to be produced, and the implications of what that knowledge might be for other views we hold. For example, we do not show that free will exists or not. If there is a neurobiological cause of all our actions, then that is the scientific result, and there’s an end to it (until some other science is done that refutes or refines that claim). What the philosopher does with that is try to figure out what, of our prior views on free will, must be abandoned in the light of these results, and what can be retained or revised. It might turn out that, for example, freedom of the will is simply a legal concept, and so we do not need to base it upon causal indeterminacy (my view, by the way). That is not knowledge. That is an argument from knowledge.
I do not know any nonreligious philosophers who argue that religion produces knowledge of a different kind. There may very well be some; not much would surprise me about people’s positions whether they are philosophers or not. But it is hardly the default view in analytic or even in continental philosophy. What philosophy does with such claims is examine them for coherence, ambiguities, and implications. “Suppose”, the atheist philosopher might say, “God reveals himself one way on a Wednesday and another way on a Sunday. Would you still count revelation as knowledge?” The theist philosopher would then have to defend against that point. The atheist philosopher raising the mere possibility is hardly arrogance or denigrating science.
And should that philosopher conclude that the theist’s position is not in contradiction to science or reason, that is not the same thing as advocating that position, any more than a medical finding that a virus causes Coxsackie disease is a claim that it should. If religion is compatible with science (or at any rate some varieties of religion are) then the arguments based on the claim that they aren’t should cease. It doesn’t mean that the philosopher wants religion to continue or that science should be somehow “reconciled” with religion. If religion and knowledge contradict each other, so much the worse for religion. The “accommodation” here is all on the side of religion (and historically, that is how it has played out, only over longer periods than a single lifetime usually. Religion always has to bow to the best available knowledge claims of the day, and has for at least the last 1000 years).
Larry is correct about one thing: the feature of scientists not entertaining contrary views seriously is a general human feature. It is hardly restricted to scientists. However, entertaining contrary views is a fundamental aim of philosophy, whether or not scientists like doing that, or artists, or plumbers, or politicians. Scientists will do this, but usually not from a desire to explore all issues (there are honourable exceptions). Science considers competing views only when they are viable competitors, and rarely extends beyond that. And my point: that is what science does. It can do no other (es kann nicht anders for the theologically informed). That is its nature. We need science to do only this or science would not generally get done.
But we need philosophy to consider views that science thinks are false or foolish, both as counterfactual hypotheticals and as possibly correct views. Also, ideas like “God” strongly test the coherence of our general conceptual equipment at the limit, as it were. Einstein did this, for example, as much as Putnam: what would God see or do. Einstein once wrote:
What I am really interested in, is knowing whether God could have created the world in a different way; in other words, whether the requirement of logical simplicity admits a margin of freedom. (Albert Einstein, quoted in Jammer 1999: 124)
Did this mean Einstein thought God existed or was necessary for science? Not at all, so if it’s okay for Einstein, why not for Sober? Is it because science has changed its attitude to philosophy rather than the other way around? I think so, and have said so before. Philosophy does what it always did: stress test ideas. Scientists now think that is not needed, in part because they are whiggish, in part because they are triumphalist, and in part because they simply do not care (possibly an indictment of our educational curricula).
Finally, because I have some work to get done that I am not paid for, methodological naturalism. Larry thinks, and I quote, “As far as I can tell, philosophers just made this up without ever thinking seriously about the evidence of how scientific thinking actually works outside in the real world.” Really? Methodological naturalism has been the ruling view of science since Thales of Miletus in the 6th century BCE. It is the view that we cannot investigate through natural means what does not follow rules. It is the idea that the sensible world, at any rate, is ruled by laws and regularities. It is the invention of “nature” as an idea.
To reject methodological naturalism is to in effect reject science as a possibility. It is not the claim that there is nothing else, nor is it the claim that science must be restricted to the physical world (at various times scientists have thought the paranormal, the spiritual, and even the theological were amenable to scientific investigation). If Larry thinks that he can scientifically investigate something that has no empirical evidence, I invite him to demonstrate that. In the meantime, any claim that is, as I have often called it, “empirically inoculated” is beyond the scope of science to investigate.
That doesn’t mean that we must accept it as a reasonable claim to hold though. There is a difference between saying “science does not disprove x” and saying “science proves x”. That we cannot show there is no divine hand in evolution is no reason to think there is. Even the most enthusiastic* of theistic evolutionists would concede that. So why is Larry concerned about methodological naturalism? Is it because he wants all knowledge claims to be restricted to scientific claims, and therefore needs to argue that no claim is beyond the scope of scientific investigation? And is that not scientism?**
*The word comes from “in-godded” in a late Greekism.
** Larry can avail himself of many rhetorical questions in an attempt to make me set out his claims so that he can accuse me of setting up straw man. I return the favour.