Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mystery and Evidence within the New Atheism

Tim Crane's post in the NY Times's The Sone, suffers many of the same problems that many of the New Atheism, mainly stating unsupportable premises as true and the then taking these premises to the casino royale of philosophical overreach. Looking at at few starting with his first:

"According to their view, religions — by this they mean basically Christianity, Judaism and Islam and I will follow them in this — are largely in the business of making claims about the universe that are a bit like scientific hypotheses. In other words, they are claims — like the claim that God created the world — that are supported by evidence, that are proved by arguments and tested against our experience of the world."

These three faiths are actually revealed faiths, and not at all like scientific hypotheses by way of experimentation. Moses carries down the tablets of the law given to him. Jesus says he's from the Father. Mohammad recites what the angel Gabriel gave him. At the core of these faiths is revelation. The evidence really does not support Crane's assertion here. By trying to place it in the world of faith, he wants to argue that faith (or Abrahamic faiths) have to conform to a scientific standard of evidence. But his own assertion here fails its own test. Second:

"What is more, while religious belief is widespread, scientific knowledge is not."

Dr Crane makes an interesting move here. He makes scientific knowledge based on how well the normal person understand the details of scientific theory and then he dismisses normal person understanding the details of theology and only looks at common believe. Taken in such a way, he then can ignore much of the evidence to the contrary. It is a great move to push his agenda, but not so well in that ignores reality. Is scientific knowledge really not widespread? If you take the same standard of knowledge that Crane uses for religion, the common believer believing in Jesus' rising from the ead, but not being able to give a detail theological explanation of the Trinity, and apply that standard to scientific knowledge of the general public and suddenly a different picture emerges.

Not a day passes that the media does not tout the latest discovery of science. Science or better scientism (those who take the mantel of science) governs more of how we live our lives than any religion. How we eat, what we eat, how we talk to each other, how best to raise our children, what we teach and how we teach our children. There is no area of our lives that science does not touch. A study says cinnamon is good in lowering our chances of getting diabetes, then offer to the store we go. Omega 3 suddenly is in everything, as science tells us it good. Even some of the current problems come from our naive accepting of the proclamations of science. The controversy of vaccinations being a source of autism started from an article in Lancet in 1998. People accepted it out of a strong faith in Science. When the article proved bogus, then proposition already had become faith.

The final assumption he makes is drawing a dichotomy between religious and science worldviews. In science, the exception invalidates the rule. So, if there are scientist that are religious, then the evidence invalidates Crane, along with many of the new atheists, dichotomy. If one can be both, then then cannot be mutual exclusive. So, the existence of Francis Collins, John Polkinghorne, Ken MIller and the many other well respected scientists who also have a faith invalidates the claim.  

He ends his piece by having tentative support for Steven Jay Gould's NOMA, “non-overlapping magisteria,” but more a peace gesture to the irrational believers, than a heartfelt belief. But the only effect of this gesture was to land him onto Sam Harris's Reason Project's Hall of shame. No mystery here. Any article that does not support that the antireligous bias of Sam Harris, the Glenn Beck of the New Atheists, has to be attacked.

I end with an aside about Sam's Hall of Shame. I think that the Reason Project has one of the few Hall of Shame who includes a more prominent thinkers than its board of advisers.

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