Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Coyne and Insecurity

All right ... this is familiar.

Jerry Coyne has found someone else who agrees with him ... maybe ... ergo he is right that science supports atheism.

We have been through this before.

This time it is "Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?" by Yonatan I. Fishman, Department of Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The kinda sad thing is Coyne's inability to hide his almost ... um ...religious belief in this proposition. He goes so far as to say about Fishman's article: "Amen, brother"! Even allowing for hyperbole and blog website informality, it is clear that enthusiasm has overwhelmed any critical sense he has.

The last time Coyne did this had to do with a paper by Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke and Johan Braeckman ("BBB") entitled "How Not to Attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical Misconceptions About Methodological Naturalism." That paper was, at the very least, a sophisticated philosophical exposition. I'm not so sure about Fishman's.

For example, BBB admitted that "methodological naturalism" is the "most widespread view" among philosophers, and, perhaps, practitioners of science.

Now, I don't have the time to dissect Fishman's article right now, but this caught my eye right off:
All else being equal, the extreme extraordinariness of supernatural phenomena in light of our background knowledge of how the world works provides good grounds for being initially very skeptical indeed. After all, supernatural entities have capacities that go far beyond powers that we know exist. For this reason, most adults are not agnostic about the existence of Santa Claus, given his possession of powers that transcend well-established generalizations concerning how the world works. Moreover, more mundane alternative hypotheses consistent with our background knowledge (to be discussed in section 3 below) are available that can explain events that are traditionally attributed to Santa Claus, e.g., the seemingly miraculous overnight appearance of presents under the tree and the disappearance of milk and cookies. In the absence of evidence for Santa Claus, one should not remain agnostic, considering the probability of his existence to be around 50 percent, but should actually lean toward disbelief in his existence (see Scriven, 1966).
Um. If, as most philosophers of science maintain, what we can only "know" from science is that which science can reveal about the "natural" world (the position Fishman is arguing against), why would it be extraordinary that everything we "know" doesn't include capacities that go far beyond powers that we know exist?

Is circular reasoning "scientific"?

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