Michael Ruse on Philosophy Bashing

Ruse has my back in a blog on The Chronicle:

Then there is Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago professor and president of the Society for the Study of Evolution. Here he is on the works of St. Augustine: “But you have better things to do with your time than read them. He may well have been an intellectual giant of his day, but his ideas are so outdated and even then, so deliberately tendentious, that they are like much of modern theology—so much sophisticated hot air.”

Just at the moment, Coyne’s big beef is about some chap who has been given a postdoc to work on the philosophy of religion. How could God know what will happen and yet grant us free will? A couple of philosophers pointed out against Coyne’s first rant on the subject that the actual existence of God is not the point of the exercise. It is rather about the nature of time and free will and much more. Coyne’s response: “The theory is NOT philosophically interesting in the absence of an omniscient being. If there isn’t one, as I presume both of these folks agree, then the project becomes an exercise in mental masturbation, musing about what something nonexistent would do if it existed.” Or how about the free will problem in its own right? “The more I read about philosophers’ attempts to redefine and save the notion of “free will” in the face of the neurological facts, the more I think that they’re muddying the waters.”

Most recently, we have Freeman Dyson in the NYRB telling us that philosophy just organized stories. He quotes Bertrand Russell at his silliest: “Philosophy is just organized piffle.” Dyson tells us that “this is a view of philosophy similar to mine.”

Let me say that I don’t mind scientists talking about philosophy. I am glad that they do. I just wish that they would do us the courtesy of taking seriously what we are trying to say. It is not a subject that can be done over a few drinks in the faculty club at the end of a hard day in the lab. The questions are important and they are tough. I think science has much to say to philosophy. I showed that in my recent discussion of the foundations of ethics. But it doesn’t have everything to say to philosophy and the questions science doesn’t tackle need tackling.

Take just one example in which I have been much involved, the teaching of evolution in state schools in the U.S. It needs knowledge of science. It needs knowledge of the law. It needs knowledge of theology. It also needs knowledge of philosophy. What is science and is evolutionary theory science? What is religion and is Creation Science religion? Do the two overlap? Is Intelligent Design Theory science or religion? Should parents have the right in a democracy to decide on curriculum content? And so the philosophical questions continue.

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