Saturday, April 28, 2012
Coyne Gives Philosophy Some Luvs
Lawrence Krauss recently made comments that can only, as Chris Schoen points out, be characterized as anti-intellectualism. Krauss has backed away from what he said but Coyne recognizes that it is a "notapology."
Kudos to Coyne for at least recognizing that philosophy can be of use even if it isn't always ... just like not all of what is called "science" is ... well done or of use.
But you didn't think it would last, did you?
Coyne elsewhere enthusiastically adopts the "hair-splitting grammatical distinctions some atheists think so seriously important in defining themselves" that even PZ Mxyzptlk can't stomach ... though he can't quite understand why.
Coyne endorses the following:
Once it is understood that atheism is merely the absence of belief in any gods, it becomes evident that agnosticism is not, as many assume, a "third way" between atheism and theism. The presence of a belief in a god and the absence of a belief in a god exhaust all of the possibilities. Agnosticism is not about belief in god but about knowledge—it was coined originally to describe the position of a person who could not claim to know for sure if any gods exist or not.Coyne dosesn't like the term "scientism." But if I assert that "Once it is understood that scientism is merely the absence of belief that anything but science is of any value in delivering 'knowledge,'" have I proven that Coyne is a proponent of "scientism"?
Thus, it is clear that agnosticism is compatible with both theism and atheism. A person can believe in a god (theism) without claiming to know for sure if that god exists; the result is agnostic theism. On the other hand, a person can disbelieve in gods (atheism) without claiming to know for sure that no gods can or do exist; the result is agnostic atheism.
It's easy to "define" others. It's less easy to justify it. Those who don't even try aren't worth listening to.
Researchers deal in particular in finding out about unknown things. So it should be intuitively easy for them to understand what an someone means when claiming ignorance about any thing. Atheists just don't believe that god is a legitimate candidate for that category 3) above.
Which doesn't address how we know things are true or false.
Atheists just don't believe that god is a legitimate candidate for that category 3) above.
Which nicely defines the difference between atheists and agnostics.
Perhaps, but a a few important variants of (3) would be (a) "I don't understand the question", or (b) "I don't really know what know means", or (c) "I don't know jackshit". All of them seem to have the word "I" in common.
Huxley's original definition is given thus: "When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain ‘gnosis’, – had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion […] So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of ‘agnostic’. It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the ‘gnostic’ of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant; and I took the earliest opportunity of parading it at our Society […] Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, ‘Try all things, hold fast by that which is good’; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him; it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith." [copied from JF Derry, Darwin in Scotland, 2010].
"…or not" does not enter the argument because it is an assumed instance, whereas Huxley clearly states his position is only to accept things for which there exists proof. You cannot start at a position of assuming a deity: that is what is wrong with all theology.
Only two alternatives remain, and for atheists it seems to be a package deal. You cannot, for example, believe in the pacifistic messages of the new testament but not in the miracles within it, or the god of the old testament, or the church(es). If you reject an one, you'll have to reject the whole package.