I simply cannot forbear, and must wade into swamps where others have already marked out the quicksands, and talk briefly about Elliott Sober’s argument that science does not contradict theism (the whole hour and three quarters of boredom available through Vimeo). Jerry Coyne and Jason Rosenhouse have already commented, and I need to put in my two cents worth. If this is all that philosophy is good for, then there’s not much point in doing philosophy! In fact, I think spending as much time as Sober does to show that for all we know there might be a being (like a god) guiding mutations is just so much time wasted, and I came to that conclusion after the first few minutes of his talk. All the distinctions that he makes, and the unnecessary introduction of Hume into the discussion, is wasted effort. He could have begun and ended by stating this: There is no way we can prove, logically, that a god or gods do not actually guide mutations, even though the evidence, so far as we can tell, indicates that mutations happen randomly. There still could be a guiding hand involved.
But this is just silly. It’s like the old philosopher’s joke that you can’t prove logically that there isn’t an elephant in the room right now, sitting on the sofa. As long as I am allowed to make as many qualifications to the characteristics of the elephant as I like (that is, in Dennett’s terms, if I am allowed to play tennis without a net), there’s no way that you can prove that he doesn’t exist. But the argument would be pointless: adding qualifications to qualifications to every response you make would not show anything. All it would do is to demonstrate that the notion of logical possibility is not a particularly interesting concept in a context such as this.
After watching the Haught-Coyne debate I am left wondering what reason Haught had to be so stirred up that he had refused (though he has now recanted, and the video is accessible here) to have the video of the debate posted online for others to see. Of more concern are the reasons he gives. In his open letter to Jerry Coyne Haught says this of his reasons for being reluctant to have the video of the debate made public:
It has to do with you alone, Jerry, not anyone else, including myself. I have had wonderful conversations with many scientific skeptics over the years, but my meeting with you was exceptionally dismaying and unproductive. I mentioned to you personally already that in my view, the discussion in Kentucky seldom rose to the level of a truly academic encounter.
Quite aside from the fact that this is an invidious public attack on Professor Coyne; to anyone who has watched the encounter this is simply ludicrous. I can see why he would not have wanted his own contribution widely disseminated. It is flat, turgid, and scarcely intelligible.
It is hard to credit Haught’s suggestion that Coyne
… did not want to debate me, but simply to lay out [his] own way of looking at science and religion.
But then to go on to suggest, as he does, that Jerry Coyne’s speech is a personal attack, is a ridiculous accusation. Coyne goes out-of-the-way to draw the fangs of his own debate, by remarking at the outset that he intends to address questions raised in Haught’s books, “not to go after him personally,” but because he a pre-eminent scholar of the relationship between science and religion, and also because he was there to defend himself. Haught doubts whether he is pre-eminent in this domain in the United States, but he is unquestionably very prominent. Here is a list of books published by Haught which directly address the relationship of science and religion:
This will be (I promise!) only a short post (well, short by my standards!). It consists in a reflection on an article in the Irish Times and linked on richarddawkins.net. The title of the article is: “Why Dawkins’s case against religion creaks at every joint.” The real problem with the article is that the author, James Mackey, didn’t find a joint, let alone show that it was creaking. Besides, you know that the religious are in deep trouble when they think they need to find a gap in science where they can situate their god.
Briefly, the argument goes like this. After a bit of throat-clearing, where the author, a former professor of theology at Edinburgh University, and visiting professor in the school of religions and theology at Trinity College Dublin, outlines what he thinks are the foundations of Dawkins’ argument:
Dawkins’s case is built on twin platforms. First, that evolution offers a full and adequate explanation of how the world came to be as we now know it; and this makes creator gods superfluous.
Then, second, that creator gods, and especially the Christian version, are nothing short of agents of immorality, both by example and in terms of their actual moral teachings, and the horrendous punishments threatened to enforce these,
he goes on to take Dawkins to task for accepting a position as faith-based as his own. This is an important point. Religious arguments very often take the form of the tu quoque fallacy — the “you do it too” fallacy. Recall the claim made by the Vatican that Roman Catholic priests were not the only people abusing children, as though this was a successful defence strategy for a Roman Catholic Church that did nothing to prevent the abuse, and not only permitted it to continue, but simply moved the problem to new groups of unsuspecting families and their children, and then covered up, not only the abuse, but its tacit complicity in it.