Angry Atheists chapter 6: Why Philosophy Doesn’t Save Religion

Feel uneasy about this chapter. It weighs in on some big philosophical debates (namely Plantinga’s free will defense and the problem of induction), but at the end it feels like a lot of work for a little payoff. Partly, I was trying to take on things that are often claimed as the end result of good philosophy, but often have surprisingly weak arguments behind them. Anyway, I’ll let you all read and decide for yourselves.

Note: if anyone can suggest specific examples of the “scientism/scientific naturalism/whatever is incoherent” and “science is a matter of faith” memes for me to take on, that might help focus the latter half of the chapter. Grrr… Also, here’s the link to the current contexts for the book.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Note: if anyone can suggest specific examples of the “scientism/scientific naturalism/whatever is incoherent”

    My current opinion of the “scientism” charges is that proponents of religion wish for religion to be considered a “way of knowing” without offering any evidence or convincing arguments as to why it should be considered as one.
    Ian Hutchinson, fusion physicist and god-botherer, raises the “scientism” flag in his latest book, Monopolizing Knowledge

    Book description
    Can real knowledge be found other than by science?

    In this unique approach to understanding today’s culture wars, MIT
    professor of nuclear science and engineering, Ian Hutchinson, answers
    emphatically yes. He shows how scientism — the often implicitly-held
    contrary view that science is all the knowledge there is — acts to
    suffocate reason, religion, and ultimately science itself…

    08:22 video of Hutchinson talking about scientism

    • Reginald Selkirk

      If you bother with the Hutchinson video, you can skip to ~ 05:30.

  • Collin

    Note: if anyone can suggest specific examples of the “scientism/scientific naturalism/whatever is incoherent”

    You seem to be familiar with Plantinga’s work already, but his recent work Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism is a very lengthy and explicit claim that naturalism is incompatible with science.

    Also, check out Frank Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. He probably cited some philosophers on his side making similar claims.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Yeah, I was thinking of addressing Plantinga’s book in this chapter, but then decided it would fit better in the next one.

      I’ve read Turek’s book, but not as recently, may take a second look at it.

  • briane

    One thing he says is that “all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past,” and from there he argues that there is no way to prove this without circularity. But it’s not clear why he thinks that all inferences from experience suppose this
    It’s been a while since I read Hume, and I’ve read the Treatise, not so much EHU.

    He started from causation. How do we know A always follows from B? Because we’ve always observed that. (As an empiricist, Hume wasn’t going to accept that it was an a priori law.) So, how do we know that what we’ve observed in the past will happen in the future? Because we’ve observed it in the past. And so on circularly…

    I think Bertrand Russell put the problem of induction best with his tale of the chicken that had always greeted the approaching farmer as a good sign because of the daily feed being somewhat disappointed when the farmer approached with the axe.

    Of course, I’ve probably gotten that mostly wrong. :)

  • briane

    I think induction just has to be taken as a given. Most of our daily thinking is inductive. But induction isn’t the same as deduction, as you point out, it is fallible. The sun will stop rising, for example.

    Hume’s point was against the rationalists, such as Descartes, who wanted all knowledge to be irrefutable, 100% certain. As such, like logic (a ^ b there a in sentential logic) and mathematics (1 + 1 = 2). If Descartes could doubt it, it wasn’t knowledge. Echoing Plato, who rejected induction as being lesser than knowledge of the forms, which were 100% perfect.

    Causation was assumed to 100% perfect, and thus useful in gaining knowledge. It is useful in gaining knowledge, but it isn’t irrefutable argued Hume, as anytime something expected doesn’t happen shows it isn’t 100% certain, just indispensable to daily functioning. But I’m probably wrong there too. :)

    Anyway, induction is only a problem if you try to make it deductively certain. Square peg in round hole. That was what Hume showed.

  • John Morales

    Partly, I was trying to take on things that are often claimed as the end result of good philosophy, but often have surprisingly weak arguments behind them.

    Weak arguments? I think you mean weak conclusions.

    (An argument is either valid or not, and its premises are either sound or not)

    • Chris Hallquist

      I was talking informally here. “Weak” in the sense of “not good.” When you formally evaluate arguments, yes, there are many specific ways for an argument to be “not good,” but I wasn’t making any formal claims there.

      • John Morales

        Fair enough.

        (Plantinga’s logic is valid, but alas the GIGO principle applies)

  • mnb0

    Ha! For the first time I disagree with you – I’m not a compatibilist. For this I refer to neurobiology. But for the evaluation of this chapter this doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s excellent again. The fact I can so easily disagree shows it – it’s all crystal clear.
    Btw I don’t think I’m a straight libertarian either. I reject causality as a fundamental principle because of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty. Better formulated: causality is a specific, even extreme form of probability. I hope you will devote a chapter to this subject too. Even if I disagree.
    As for this chapter I am missing something. Bart Ehrman pointed out that heaven apparently is a realm where souls have free will ánd invariably chose to do good. If Plantinga and co are serious about their faith they must admit that it’s possible for their god to create such a realm. Sending his worshippers through the vale of tears called life makes no sense then – he is supposed to know who deserves to go to heaven directly (Plantinga?) and who not (you and me). Speaking for myself, I’ll happily sacrifice my existence if that makes it possible for christian souls to go to heaven directly. Non-existing never has been a problem for me.

    One suggestion: split the chapter. Everything from What’s so great about Science on deserves its own chapter.
    That specific journey began a little earlier btw. Archimedes was one of the greatest physicists ever, ranking among and possibly above Newton and Einstein. He had no shoulders to stand upon.
    Finally the section on sound and good arguments is not finished yet. You forget to work out the fact that science is based on two pillars: induction ánd deduction. Popper was the first to point this out; of course he only described what he saw happening in the natural sciences, but that doesn’t matter too much here. We not only assume that the sun will rise tomorrow because of an extrapolated expectation, but also because we have a good theory on this phenomenon. Claims like aliens abducting thousands of Americans or about any god always lack at least one of them. It’s also the difference with stock trading.

    So I agree; you might want to rewrite the last few alinea’s. But again the main theme is crystal clear, so I’m quite happy with this chapter overall.

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