About Me

My photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Coyne/Haught question time

Jerry Coyne has made available the video of the question time from the debate/symposium/whatever with Haught - discussed in the previous post.

I don't want to analyse this in depth, but just to make a few quick points. One is that the format allowed opportunities for Haught to respond to Jerry's arguments ... and indeed Haught did develop more of an argument for his position in his long answers to some of the questions than he did in his actual presentation. He can hardly, however, complain that Jerry's 25-minute presentation failed to refute an argument that he had not made in any proper way at that point.

Both speakers continue during the question time to stay within the bounds of civility, so there can be no complaint about this. If anyone starts to wander beyond civility and become personal in the whole discussion, it is actually Haught at 24:48 into the video. If anyone had cause for complaint about incivility it was actually Jerry Coyne - though to be fair I think that even this bit of snarkiness from Haught was well within the bounds. We mustn't adopt an overly precious attitude to public debate; I don't want to burden anyone with some ridiculous standard of gentility.

Finally, although I don't propose to analyse the merits of the actual arguments, if anyone engaged in reducing the other's position to a caricature, or to something not even recognisable, it seems to me that it was Haught. In particular, I don't see Jerry or anyone else denying that it is possible for, say, the boiling of water to be caused both by molecular motion and by my desire to have a cup of tea. The total causal story may well include both of those things and many others.

The idea that science and religion are incompatible is not at all based on an argument that it is logically inconsistent to claim, for example, that the presence of diverse life forms is caused by both a process of a biological evolution and by the creative actions of a powerful intelligence (who might have set the whole thing in motion for its own reasons). There is no logical inconsistency here, but I've never seen somebody who argues for the incompatibility of science and religion put an argument that there is.

Typically, what are put by "non-accomodationists" are more specific reasons why we should not glibly say that "science and religion are compatible", how they are, in some senses, "incompatible", and why all this is important. That's what Jerry did in the debate thingie at the University of Kentucky.

When I wrote the previous post, I was not aware that Haught had told Jerry (during question time) to "get out more". When I said that Haught needs to get out more, that was serendipitous.

But really, Haught needs to ... um, let's change metaphors ... wake up and smell the coffee. He is in a position where he has ample opportunities to put his viewpoint in books and speeches. From what I've read (again, I've read most of his books) and seen, he employs more nastiness - more insults and condescension - than his opponents do, at least the high-profile ones such as Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne (what happens within the blogosphere is a topic for another time).

Haught doesn't have much to complain about.


Svlad Cjelli said...

Well now you're just being unfair. Don't you know that Haught is simply beyond our mortal comprehension? You can never hope to understand the subtle injustices of Coyne.

Ron T said...

Very interesting how John Haught strangles himself in words like transformative truth just to invent what I would call private evidence by argument of aesthetic appeal of anecdotal material of unquestioned origin. If ever someone invented heaven for daydreamers!

Also this kettle of tea argument is telling. On whatever level you address the question "Why is the water boiling?", on none of the levels theology will help you out. With the answer "because Mary put the water on." John starts free riding on the back of linguistics, with the answer "because water molecules are moving with high enough velocity" he is free riding on the back of science. He gives no example of a theological answer on the question. And indeed ,who needs one? Is he arguing that god put the kettle on? Of course this is not a matter of different answers to the same question but of different questions being asked, all contained in one little sentence.

Further on John forgets about pluralism altogether when he is on his cloud of personal belief interpretation talking about the ultimate truth. I ask you how can christian theology claim pluralism when it denies all other gods.

Indeed, he should get out more to test the ideas of that demon in his head.