Friday, September 25, 2009


Specific Density


Jerry Coyne is not only somewhat crippled in his ability to address the subject of religion rationally, he seems to lose his ability to comprehend the English language when the subject comes up. His latest is dubbing the following from Josh Rosenau as part of some "Hall of Shame":

If the goal of this blog is to be at all educational, one hopes that a vigorous defense of analogy will serve some salutary effect in the difficulties people have with analogical thinking, whether they be religious fundamentalists bent on Biblical literalism, or atheists bent on insisting that literalism is the true form of religion.

Coyne's response is:

I weep for the NCSE if this kind of idea is running the railroad. We atheists don't give a tinker's dam about what the true form of religion might be, because we don't think there is one! Nor do we have one. We don't worship Darwin, nor think that he's infallible. Is this part of a strategy to marginalize atheists along with Biblical fundamentalists?

I'm sorry, if Coyne doesn't care what the "true form" of religion is, why does he keep telling us that it isn't what liberal theologians think it is? Here is a recent, but hardly solitary, example:

[T]here's one thing that both atheists and the devout agree on: Karen Armstrong's God-is-but-a-transcendence-beyond-a-symbol theology is not only unrepresentative of religion in general, but hard to distinguish from atheism.

So, in point of fact, Coyne has, on his own, put himself in exactly the same company Josh was alluding to. Of course Coyne doesn't believe that religion itself is true. But he most certainly does believe that there is a form of religion (that he is opposing) that is the "real" religion, as compared to the "unreal" religion of someone like Armstrong ... just as the literalists believe.

Nor is it surprising that other people think Coyne insists that the "true form" of religion is closer to literalism than the more liberal and less primitive faiths, since the former is so much easier to debunk.


Update: Josh has his own response to Coyne.

There's another example from Sam Harris:

"Within every faith one can see people arranged along a spectrum of belief. Picture concentric circles of diminishing reasonableness: At the center, one finds the truest of true believers — the Muslim jihadis, for instance, who not only support suicidal terrorism but who are the first to turn themselves into bombs; or the Dominionist Christians, who openly call for homosexuals and blasphemers to be put to death."
J. J. Ramsey said...

"There's another example from Sam Harris:"

This is "another example" of what?
It's another example of treating the least reasonable as the most true or pure examples of religious believers.
The quote you provide doesn't demonstrate to me what you seem to think it demonstrates. Coyne clearly differentiates between "unrepresentative of religion in general" and "hard to distinguish from atheism". When someone calls themselves a Scotsman when they were not born in Scotland and have never lived in or been to Scotland, it is not fallacious to say they are not a true Scotsman.
The point was that he was describing some version of religion as the "real" version opposed to Armstrong's. The fact that Coyne might find it hard to distinguish Armstrong's version from atheism doesn't mean it isn't religion -- unless there is a "true" religion to compare it to.

In any event, that was only one example out of many where he does the same thing.
What if they born to Scottish parents on a boat just sailed from a harbour in Scotland and raised in another country with their traditions and cultural heritage intact? Would they be "false" in describing themselves as a Scotsman? Because if they're not "true" Scotsman then they have to be false. That's what is set up when you start imposing narrow definitions and assigning one the label of "true."
My point is that you're free to try and impose that kind of label if you want but if the person you're trying to label doesn't agree with you're narrow definition, then it stops being a label and starts being an insult.
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