Monday, January 25, 2016

Are the humanities a different way of knowing?

The answer is "no" according to Jerry Coyne and I agree with him [“Other ways of knowing”: Out of Africa].

What about music, art, and literature? I agree with him on that as well. Read Faith vs Fact.




44 comments :

  1. Science (writ large to include math, logic, history, etc.) is the only way I'm aware of to arrive at truths that apply irrespective of our existence or thinking, e.g., that we will fall if unsupported whether we believe in gravity or not.

    Music, art, and literature can certainly lead us to "know" many things that depend on our existence and thinking, such as an appreciation of James Joyce's language from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

    "He took a phrase from his treasure and spoke it softly to himself: 'A day of dappled seaborne clouds....'"

    We can appreciate the beauty of the words and the rhythm of the phrase. While thinking of rhythm we can note this phrase is iambic quatrameter, recall that Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter, and wonder if there is something in the iambic foot that appeals innately to the human brain (since all human cultures we know of have speech and music and both involve rhythm). That would be at least in part a scientific question.

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  2. Larry,

    I don't think you should be endorsing this book. It's really bad. Your buddy J. Coyne got so many concepts wrong and mixed up, that I stop reading his book after the introduction. He can't even tell the difference between religion and faith!

    Unless you believe there is no difference between the two, you can go ahead.

    Apparently, the book gets worst as the it progresses but that is not my personal opinion but rather respected people who did NOT get turned off by the layman approach to religion, faith and belief.

    Coyne should have never taken on this task. He made himself an object of much mocker among the majority of philosophers, as well as humor.
    At my office people are making up cartoons called Darwin and Coyno.
    Can I post them here somehow?
    They are pretty funny!

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    1. Being mocked by philosophers may not be as terrible as you think. Send me the cartoons along with your name and the identify of your institution and I'll be happy to post them.

      Defining "religion" and "faith" are notoriously difficult tasks. Please send me your definitions so I can laugh at them.

      Jerry does a pretty good job beginning on page 41 where he starts out with, "Defining 'religion' is thankless task, for no single definition will satisfy everyone. Belief in a god would seem mandatory, but some groups that look like religions, such as Janism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Unitarian Universalism, don't even have that. Other 'religions," like Tibetan Buddhism may not worship gods, but do accept supernatural phenomena like karma and reincarnation."

      I'm guessing that you are going to do a much better job of defining religion and faith. You have to in order to justify not reading his book and mocking his views. Looking forward to it ...

      Waiting ...

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    2. I would be careful basing my arguments against atheism on the opinion of the "majority of philosophers" because last time I checked the majority of philosophers are atheists. Not that such a fact matters much -- after all, all philosophers were firm believers a thousand years ago -- but it defeats your argument.

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    3. Re Larry Moran

      If one defines religion as a set of beliefs with no evidence, then, as Martin Gardner argued, Dialectal Materialism could be classified as a religion as it is a set of beliefs based on no evidence.

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    4. I don't think you should be endorsing this book. It's really bad.

      I'm just reading it and finding it well-written, and certainly better than some reviews would have you believe. The reactionary Catholic college teacher, Edward Feser here, for instance appears not to have read Coyne's book at all.

      And the gauntlet is thrown down to those that claim there are other ways of knowing about the world than by observing, measuring and experimenting. Navel gazing hasn't produced many insights so far.

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  3. Hi Professor Moran,

    The methodological flaws in Coyne's book exposed by Dr. Ed Feser in his review at http://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/02/omnibus-of-fallacies do indeed warrant serious concern. And yes, Feser has read the book.

    If you want a meatier review, try my piece at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/faith-vs-fact-jerry-coynes-flawed-epistemology/ . (No, I haven't read the book, as I couldn't afford to order it, but it is intended as a serious, critical analysis of the arguments Coyne advances in his book, and which he has defended on several occasions on his Website.) And yes, I do touch on what we can learn about human nature from studying ethics, art and literature. Cheers.

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    1. Feser's "review" is idiotic. I wonder if he might be a bit biased? He's his bio ...

      I am a writer and philosopher living in Los Angeles. I teach philosophy at Pasadena City College. My primary academic research interests are in the philosophy of mind, moral and political philosophy, and philosophy of religion. I also write on politics, from a conservative point of view; and on religion, from a traditional Roman Catholic perspective.

      I will not comment on anything you say until you read the book.

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    2. Suit yourself. I should inform you, by the way, that Feser was an atheist for many years. His work has been highly praised by no less a philosopher than Sir Anthony Kenny. And calling a review "idiotic" without saying why is just silly.

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    3. All Feser has done is to demonstrate once again the impossibility of disproving God and the ability of believers to twist theology in new ways so that they can claim it is compatible with modern science. That's it. He's done it with a lot of fancy logical arguments (after all, he's a scholastic, s no surprise), but we already knew it so nothing new there.

      The reason people have been able to do that for centuries is the asymmetry in the epistemological standards applied --- if the existence of deities were treated as a scientific hypothesis, no sane person would believe it. But the rules are not so strict so we are where we are.

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    4. If you are not familiar with Feser, Larry, consider yourself fortunate. Not only is the man a blithering idiot whose only schtick is to regurgitate Aquinas, but he's one of the most tediously long-winded writers you'd ever encounter.

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  4. If you want a meatier review, try my piece at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/faith-vs-fact-jerry-coynes-flawed-epistemology/ . (No, I haven't read the book, as I couldn't afford to order it...

    How on Earth can you claim to review a book you haven't read, Vincent. Explain to me how that is not blatantly dishonest? I'm shocked, shocked, I say!

    Regarding Feser, you learn nothing of the content of Coyne's book from reading Feser's review. It is obviously intended as character assassination.

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  5. Alan Fox:

    Evidently you didn't read my review. In the third paragraph, I stated very clearly:

    "This post will not be a book review of Professor Coyne's Faith vs. Fact - a book from which I have only read brief excerpts - but rather, a critical analysis of the arguments Coyne advances in his book, and which he has defended elsewhere (see for instance here, here, here, here, here and here)."

    Say what you like, Alan; that's NOT "blatantly dishonest." I was completely up-front. I emailed Coyne after writing my review, as a professional act of courtesy, but he didn't reply.

    I should add that I've been reading Jerry Coyne's posts practically every day, for several years. I'm pretty familiar with the way he reasons on matters theological. I've also watched TV interviews he's given after the publication of his book, in which he summarized the key ideas of his book. My review is over 11,000 words long, and addresses the following topics: Coyne's flawed definition of faith; what the Bible really says about faith; whether evidence for the supernatural needs to be replicable; whether religious believers are excessively gullible; why different religions disagree; Coyne's lax definition of science; what we can learn from studying ethics, art and literature; whether intuition can yield knowledge; and whether there are any a priori metaphysical truths. If that's not "meaty," then I'd like to know what is.

    Regarding Feser's review: he's quite within his rights as a philosopher in pointing out that Coyne's thesis is inconsistent, and that his definitions of "religion" and "science" are unsatisfactory.

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    1. I agree that you probably knew about Jerry Coyne's position without reading the book and I agree that you stated clearly that you had not read the book.

      That's fine. No problem from me.

      However, I cringe at the hypocrisy of the typical Intelligent Design Creationists. Imagine that I had said the same thing about Darwin's Doubt.

      Imagine that I was to write a blog post today on Michael Denton's view as expressed in his new book Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis. I haven't read the book but I'm pretty sure I can guess what's in it.

      Do you think the folks at the Discovery Institute would let me get away with that?

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    2. @Vincent Torley

      You and Feser adopt similar tactics. Rather than addressing the big picture view of the conflict between science and religion you prefer to focus on nitpicking by challenging everyone to come up with an exact definition of "faith," "religion," and "science."

      What you should be doing is explaining YOUR definitions and why there's no conflict with the way you define faith and facts. (And refute Jerry's challenge to your definitions.)

      The question boils down to this. Do you have any solid evidence that your gods exist? And if you do (e.g. flying monks) does that evidence stand up to scientific scrutiny.

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    3. If you ask Feser that question (regarding the evidence) he will tell you that Aquinas and the likes have provided the proof. Which will get you dragged in the mud of trying to pick apart the logical flaws of his syllogisms, which have to do with the vagueness of the definitions used, but which he will never allow you to expose by accusing you of, being a modern person, misunderstanding what the medieval thinkers meant by "greatness", "perfection" and other stuff of the sort.

      You can then try to point out that Feser is a catholic, while the arguments for the existence of God he cites, even if we assumed that they're valid, having absolutely nothing to say about Christianity being the true religion, let alone Catholicisms being the proper version of it. Then he will apply a reverse Gish gallop tactic by replying that in fact that also follows logically and it a rock solid conclusion, and that Aquinas has answered that question over a few hundred dense pages in Summa theologica and that if take a few months of your time to ingest those pages you will understand it too. And this is where the discussion ends because, of course, none of his opponents can afford to do that just so they can find more problems with definitions and logical errors buried within long passages of dense medieval prose.

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    4. Hi Professor Moran,

      If you'd like some contemporary scientific evidence for the existence of God, then you can find it in my latest post on the fine-tuning argument, in response to Sean Carroll, in which I discuss the evidence, present the argument in a more rigorously logical form, rebut Carroll's criticisms of the argument, and endeavor to show that even when you take the evidence against God into consideration, theism still comes out on top.

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    5. Huh, is ID about a god? Silly me, and I always thought ID was all about an intelligent designer??

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    6. That depends on what you mean by "God" and what you mean by "ID." When most people refer to ID, they're usually thinking about the biological version of Intelligent Design, which talks about things like proteins, DNA, the genetic code, molecular machines and so on. That doesn't prove the existence of God: an alien could have created life on Earth.

      However, there is also a cosmological version of Intelligent Design: the argument from fine-tuning. Now, by itself, a fine-tuned universe doesn't prove there's a God, since a skeptic could appeal to the multiverse as an explanation, but if you can show that even a multiverse would have to be fine-tuned (as Robin Collins endeavors to do in his online essay, "The Teleological Argument"), or that postulating a multiverse leads to absurd implications concerning our own universe - namely, that if the multiverse is real then our universe is probably a computer simulation, as Paul Davies has argued - then you're left with an immaterial Intelligence that's outside of space-time and not bound by the laws of physics as the only possible explanation. And while that's not necessarily the God of classical theism, many people might be happy enough to call that Intelligence God. It is, after all, transcendent.

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    7. Dr. Torley -

      I read your post on the fine-tuning argument. Two comments:

      - In your post, you say But if God’s aim is to create intelligent beings who are capable of inferring His existence on scientific grounds, as the fine-tuning hypothesis listed above states, then it could be argued that He does need to create a fine-tuned cosmos – or some other cosmos with a “fingerprint of the Deity”.

      Then I guess we must conclude There is no deity. At its most fundamental level, the universe is quantum. Quantum means stochastic, probabilistic, non-deterministic. It means in our universe there can be no trace of a "fingerprint of the Deity" because current conditions could not be determined at the beginning. Any "fine tuning" - the very existence of stars, galaxies, planets, matter itself - is thus inevitably the result of chance.

      Thus if the type of universe in which we find ourselves was created by an entity we'll call the deity, the central and really the only thing we can conclude about the nature of that deity is **it did not wish to be found.** There is no more effective means of covering your tracks than to assure any trace of the origins of the universe in which you had a hand will be immediately covered up as innumerable chance events take place in each square femtometer of that universe trillions and trillions of times every second.

      Thus by your own criterion for the existence of a creator and a fine-tuned universe - that the creator thereby announces itself to its intelligent creations - we must conclude the place in which we find ourselves actually living is godless.

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    8. Vince Torley says his beloved "intelligent designer" might be something other than the god of the Christian faith. Because Vincent Torley is a bald faced liar.

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    9. Vincent Torley disagrees with Sean Carroll on a question of cosmology. Well, golly gee. I wonder, between the two of them, who is more likely correct.

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    10. judemarc,

      Your argument against God assumes: (i) that the Intelligent Designer never intervenes in the history of the universe subsequent to the Big Bang; (ii) that quantum processes are truly random, as opposed to pseudorandom (remember that pseudorandom sequences are often statistically random); and (iii) that there are no genuine cases of top-down causation in the universe, as opposed to bottom-up causation. I would reject all three assumptions.

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    11. Vincent Torley denies:

      (ii) that quantum processes are truly random, as opposed to pseudorandom (remember that pseudorandom sequences are often statistically random)

      So you've falsified Bell's Inequality, have you, Vincent? Please give us the citation to where you have published this shattering discovery. And congratulations in advance on what is sure to be the Nobel Prize in physics.

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  6. Vincent Torley writes:

    Evidently you didn't read my review.

    No, I didn't. Let me offer some constructive criticism. Blaise Pascal is famous for remarking "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time". Spending a little time paring down your voluminous posts at UD might render them more readable.

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    1. That Torley is an admirer of the execrable Ed Feser makes a lot of sense. Both of them, if given the chance of saying something in a single sentence, prefer to write a whole book that says nothing.

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    2. Pascal was right. Writing a pithy review is quite hard work. But it seems I'm not the only one who goes in for long reviews. Jonathan Wells' "The Myth of Junk DNA" was only 114 pages long, I believe, but Professor Moran must have written at least a dozen posts in reply. The problem with writing short replies is that: (a) the argument contained in a book may be lengthy and complex; and (b) you will often be accused of failing to address all of the author's points. Honestly, I don't know what the best course of action is. One thing I do, however, to make my reviews less monotonous is to use lots of headings (enabling readers to skip parts that don't concern them) and lots of highlighting (to allow readers to skim what I've written). Sometimes I also include an executive summary at the front of my post. I didn't do that with my review of Coyne, but perhaps I should have done so.

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    3. Your problem, Vincent, is not just that your articles are too long. Rather, in no particular order: 1) You don't know how to write, and 2) You don't know how to think.

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    4. Oooooh. Snappy comeback from from Vincent. I guess we should be happy he didn't take 30 paragraphs to make it.

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  7. @Vincent,

    I just lost a longer comment to you but there is a thread here if you've time.

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    1. Hi Alan,

      I read your post over at the Skeptical Zone. If you want a brief answer to what's wrong with Coyne's definitions of scientism, it's this: his attempt to draw a sharp line between science and religion completely fails. The following paragraphs, which are taken from my review, explain the problem in more detail.

      Let’s return to Coyne’s definition of science: “a methodology that relies on doubt, replication, being subject to the review of your peers, logic, reason and prediction.” We saw above that Coyne himself admits that replication is not an essential feature of science; rather, what matters is that a scientific hypothesis should make striking predictions (about what happened in the past or will happen in the future), which are testable and publicly falsifiable. However, a definition of science which makes testable predictions its hallmark feature is too broad for Coyne’s purposes, for it could encompass religion as well – which would negate Coyne’s central thesis that science offers us a reliable way of knowing, while religion does not. After all, Deuteronomy 18:22 explicitly admonishes us to test prophesies: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.” And while many religious claims – e.g. about what will happen when we die – are untestable on this side of eternity, a believer might argue that they could be falsified in the hereafter: if, for instance, we were to discover after our deaths that reincarnation is true, that would falsify Christianity and lend support to Hinduism, Buddhism and/or Jainism.

      Coyne might reply that even if religious claims are testable in the grand scheme of things, religion does not possess the other marks of science: religion does not resort to logic, reason, doubt and peer review. Again, this is simply not the case: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica is rigorously logical, and its author addresses every question – including the question of whether God exists – by marshaling all the arguments he is aware of which seem to contradict the conclusion that he argues for, before proceeding to refute those arguments. Doubt is part and parcel of Aquinas’ approach to philosophy. As for peer review: once again, has Coyne never heard of ecumenical councils, where proposed theological formulations are subjected to open and at times fierce debate, before being finally adopted by a vote?

      If testable predictions, logic, debate and doubt aren’t enough to distinguish science from religion, then it seems that science’s subject matter must be what makes it distinct from religion: science deals with empirical phenomena, while religion deals with the transcendent. But it is noteworthy that Coyne himself rejects this view: he asserts that many religious statements are empirically falsifiable, and he even claims in his posts that some (e.g. the dogma that humanity is descended from a single couple, Adam and Eve) have already been falsified. Coyne also contends that science could provide at least tentative evidence for the existence of a transcendent, supernatural Deity, if the Deity left visible signs of its existence.

      The upshot of all this is that Coyne’s attempt to draw a sharp line between science and religion fails, and that his definition of science is too broad to do the job.

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    2. Rather than take advantage of Professor Moran's hospitality, I've taken the liberty of pasting your comment at TSZ and I'll respond to it there. You'd be very welcome to contribute.

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    3. torley preached:

      "However, a definition of science which makes testable predictions its hallmark feature is too broad for Coyne’s purposes, for it could encompass religion as well – which would negate Coyne’s central thesis that science offers us a reliable way of knowing, while religion does not. After all, Deuteronomy 18:22 explicitly admonishes us to test prophesies: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.” And while many religious claims – e.g. about what will happen when we die – are untestable on this side of eternity, a believer might argue that they could be falsified in the hereafter: if, for instance, we were to discover after our deaths that reincarnation is true, that would falsify Christianity and lend support to Hinduism, Buddhism and/or Jainism."

      Wow, that some of the stupidest stuff I've read lately. You're actually claiming that you can scientifically test a religious, so-called prediction (or 'prophesy') AFTER you die, and that that puts religion on an equal basis with science as a reliable way of knowing.

      You're a loon, and that's putting it mildly.

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    4. But if it turns out we do have immortal souls that survive our bodies' death, then that still does not negate science as the only means of knowing. Using Torley's own example, we could test whether only Christians are allowed to enter paradise and all others are consigned to Hades. That is still using the scientific method. Torley still has not met the task of demonstrating another way of knowing besides science.

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    5. For that matter, the very fact that our consciousness survived the death of our bodies would demonstrate the existence of some sort of "soul" but, again, this would be thru the application of the scientific method. Torley is arguing for Coyne's position, he just doesn't know it.

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    6. After all, Deuteronomy 18:22 explicitly admonishes us to test prophesies: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.”

      You mean like Truly I tell you, some of you standing here will not taste death before they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power. (Mark 9:1)

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    7. TWT,

      If post-mortem testing doesn't appeal to you, there are plenty of religious claims that can be tested in this life. I'd happily acknowledge that the discovery of Jesus' bones in Palestine would falsify belief in the Resurrection. Anyway, I discussed the issue of falsifiability back in 2010, in one of my earlier (and shorter) posts on UD: see here.

      judemarc:

      I don't think Mark 9:1 is a terribly clear example, as someone could object: "What exactly do you mean by the Kingdom of God, and what do you mean by 'coming in power'?" A Christian could even say that Calvary (33 A.D.) was a crushing defeat for the forces of evil, and that it fulfilled the prophecy. You'll have to do better than that.

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    8. If post-mortem testing doesn't appeal to you, there are plenty of religious claims that can be tested in this life. I'd happily acknowledge that the discovery of Jesus' bones in Palestine would falsify belief in the Resurrection.

      And how do you suggest this be done without using the scientific method?

      You don't seem to be understanding the point of this discussion. The argument is not that religious claims cannot be tested. It is that there is no way to do this outside of the scientific method. Clear now?

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    1. Alan, this site isn't TSZ and it isn't UD. torley posted comments here and there are responses to him here. It's really tacky that you're trying to divert torley (and others) from here to TSZ.

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    2. No problem (apart from the clunky blogger software) to carry on here if Vincent and/or Larry prefer. I apologise to Larry if he has got the impression that I'm trying to poach his readership. As a lapsed biochemist, I lurk here because it is a handy way to keep up with developments and controversies in the field.

      I regard Vincent as one of the more acceptable proponents of the ID movement and I've exchanged views with him in the past. I can't engage with him at UD or Feser's blog, being banned there, so I saw an opportunity to re-engage here. So if Vincent wants to carry on here and Larry doesn't mind if it goes off-topic, I'm happy to continue here.

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    3. Hi Alan,

      Thanks for your comment over at TSZ. My reply is here.

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