I do apologise, but I have made some significant editings of the following post, which will be different from the one that some readers will have received by email. It’s so easy to think that something is finished when there is still work to do. So, please read this version instead of the first one! I’ll stop tinkering now!
Over at Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne has been arguing about god again, giving us yet one more look behind the secret curtain into the rather dingy world of what Jerry calls Sophisticated Theology™, this time with reference to the work of William E. Carroll, who is, as his blurb over at Biologos tells us, “the Thomas Aquinas Fellow in Theology and Science at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford and member of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Oxford.” With credentials like that he must of course be right and everyone else must be wrong. And this, not to put to fine a point on it, is a problem. Sophisticated Theology™ tends to carry its own defensive perimeter around with it. Most people can’t really make sense of what Sophisticated Theology™ says, can’t even say whether its use of language is a legitimate use, and yet, on it are based a number of claims, not only to scholarly recognition, but also to the effectiveness of Sophisticated Theology™ in demolishing the arguments of its opponents.
Let me give you an example of this in Carroll’s argument in his Biologos essay on “Creation, Cosmology and the Insights of Thomas Aquinas.” He plays the same game in his review of Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing — “The Science of Nothing“ – so it is clearly standard fare at Blackfriars Hall. The argument is a simple one. We start with the cosmos as it is, and we ask how it got to be that way, or, even more fundamentally, why there is anything at all rather than nothing. Of course, Krauss’s idea that nothing is a real, physical something out of which the cosmos crackles into being is the perfect foil to Carroll’s claim that Krauss is simply working with ideas way above his pay grade. After all, if nothing is not nothing after all, then Carroll would seem to be right when he says in his review of Krauss’s book that, while Krauss does not add anything to our knowledge in this area,
[w]hat causes us pause is the provocative way in which he moves from these theories to draw all sorts of philosophical and theological conclusions. In a culture heavily dominated by the authority of science, we need to be especially wary of scientists who use (or rather misuse) that authority to make claims which are well beyond their own disciplines.
Now, there is, after all, some justice in the remark. After all, when Hawking and Mlodinow begin their book The Grand Design by announcing the death of philosophy, and then, a few pages later, actually make some undoubtedly philosophical assumptions — as when they speak of “model dependent realism” — which is clearly not an empirical but a conceptual claim – the only suitable conclusion is that they misspoke themselves at the beginning.