Friday, June 11, 2010


Facepalm Central

Oooh! This is Jerry Coyne at his philosophical best!

He declares:

It's time to admit that those who still claim that religion and science are compatible–ignoring their fundamental and blatantly obvious differences in philosophy, methodology, and success at understanding the universe–are intellectually dishonest.
Why "intellectually dishonest"? Because, according to Coyne:

[Stephen Hawking is] always cited by accommodationists as being quasi-religious, since he said in A Brief History of Time that if physicists were to hit on a "theory of everything" they would have seen into "the mind of God."
"Always"? It's amazing that accommodationists have attracted so much attention if all they do is go around and babble on incessantly about a single sentence in one of Hawking's books. Strangely, even though I would doubtless be considered an "accommodationist" by Coyne because I don't consider science to be a "worldview," an "approach to the world," or an "attitude," I don't ever remember mentioning Hawking's line about God ... and neither does Google.

In any event, stating that science and religion are compatible because one prominent scientist said they were would be the logical fallacy of an appeal to (inappropriate) authority ... unless, of course, you could show that the prominent scientist was also an expert on the philosophy of science and religion. So how does Coyne "demonstrate" that science and religion are incompatible? Why, by citing a few sentences from an interview Hawking recently gave, particularly this one:

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.
According to Coyne:

The last, terse sentence sums up in six words the entire history of science and faith. Hawking, willfully misunderstood by those desperate to harmonize science with faith, recognizes their profound incompatibility.
And that's based on "evidence" consisting of a "terse" sentence from a television interview by a person, with no demonstrated expertise, over twenty years after his book was published? On that grounds we can declare that anyone who disagrees with Coyne's philosophy to be "intellectually dishonest" because they have "willfully misunderstood" Hawking?

Glass. Houses. Stones.

It looks to me like Coyne started out appealing to Hawking as authority on what Hawking believes (which Hawking is, afterll, the foremost authority on) but couldn't resist the urge to resort to his authority more generally.

The pathetic thing is that the commenters at WEIT, who pretend to put reason and evidence above all else, don't seem capable of seeing fallacies when they are deployed in the services of their own side.

I do think it is intellectually dishonest to take someone like Hawking, who is clearly using 'God' metaphorically, as supporting actual relgion and, as a religious person, it always embarrasses me to see someone do that, whether it is with Hawking or Einstein or someone else doing the same and am quite ready to take them to task for it.
The pathetic thing is that the commenters at WEIT, who pretend to put reason and evidence above all else, don't seem capable of seeing fallacies when they are deployed in the services of their own side.

I see you tried to correct that failure ... with no noticable effect.

I'm glad to know that English is still a living language and that the statement "It’s time to admit that those who still claim that religion and science are compatible ... are intellectually dishonest" has somehow avoided being a universal claim ... though I'd like to know how.

But when did you stop being a theist, Mike, and become a "faithiest"? ... since we all know the commentariat at WEIT wouldn't do anything as irrational as leaping to conclusions.
What Hawking and Coyne appear not to have observed - although, as scientists, they should have - is that religion is winning and has done for centuries precisely because it works better than science as what the ineffable Wilkins calls "social glue".
No 'faitheist' me.
Hawking reminds me of Jesus answering the Pharisees's trick questions. He never answers the damn question. He answers some other question. And then everybody leaps to the conclusion that he actually answered the damn question. Answer the damn question dammit!!

Anyway, I don't think it's so "clear" that Hawking is clearly using "God" metaphorically. YMMV.

"I thought I had left the question of the existence of a supreme being completely open." --Hawking
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