Jason Rosenhouse on philosophical turf guarding

Much of the silliness of philosophers is confined to the ivory tower, but Jason Rosenhouse has a very good summary of one of the main ways philosophers manage to be annoying when trying to bring their “philosophical expertise” to public debates:

I’m more interested in the second goal, since it illustrates another annoying tendency of certain philosophers. I am referring to the endless turf protection. The relentless nattering not about the arguments themselves, but about classifying the argument within the proper academic discipline. Obviously to go from the facts of science to nontrivial conclusions about God you are going to have to add to your argument some assumptions about God’s nature and abilities. If that transforms the argument from scientific to philosophical then so be it. Can we please now move on to the more important question of determining whether the arguments are any good?

Yes, there’s a gulf between scientific facts and theological conclusions. But it’s a very small gulf, readily bridged by assumptions about God that are very common. The millennia of suffering entailed by the evolutionary process does not by itself rule out God, but add the standard assumptions (among Christians at any rate) that God is all-loving, knowing and powerful, and suddenly the problem is obvious. Moreover, the conflict isn’t logical, but evidential. The numerous ways that evolution challenges Christianity (challenging the Bible on the age of the Earth and on Adam and Eve, refuting the argument form design, exacerbating the problem of evil, and diminishing human significance) amount to a strong cumulative case against the possibility of reconciling evolution and religion. They don’t logically disprove theism, but that is neither here not there.

But even here I might still be inclined to let it go were it not for a point Sober made both in his earlier interview and in the colloquium. Near the end of the question and answer period he remarked that he thinks that so much of the perceived conflict between evolution and Christianity is unnecessary. The science, properly understood, does not directly refute any central Christian claim.

Truly, though, it is the height of ivory tower nonsense to think that Sober’s argument makes even the slightest contribution to allaying the concerns of religious folks with regard to evolution. They are not worried about logical possibilities. They are worried about plausibilities, and Sober is quite up front that he himself does not find it plausible to think that God is directing the mutations. He points out there is not a shred of evidence for believing any such thing. He could have added that there are grave theological problems with such a suggestion, some of which I discussed in my previous post.

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