What I learned in a NATURE Editorial
June 14, 2007 — 10:28

Author: Tim Pawl  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 31

There's an editorial on pg 753 of the newest edition of Nature (vol 447, issue 7146). It starts with this claim:

"With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside."

Wow! Something near and dear to Christianity — the imago dei — can be safely put aside (not argued down or shown inconsistent, but politely put away). Such truths are hard to take, but the deference the author has shown to my sensibilities helps . . .

 Why can it be put aside? Well, the editor tells us:

"But the suggestion that any entity capable of creating the Universe has a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as that of an upright ape adapted to living in small, intensely social peer-groups on the African savannah seems a priori unlikely."

That might very well be a priori unlikely, but who said that being made in the image of God meant that God had a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as an upright ape?

One last thing the erudite editor says is:

Moral philosophers often put great store by their rejection of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’, the belief that because something is a particular way, it ought to be that way. Now we learn that untutored beliefs about ‘what ought to be’ do, in fact, reflect an ‘is’: the state of the human mind as an evolved entity. Accepting this represents a challenge that few as yet have really grappled with.

This is one of those claims I hate to see in my intro papers, because there are so many things wrong with it I don't know where to begin. The presentation of the naturalistic argument is wrong (the naturalistic fallacy goes further than just rejecting the deontic conclusion of []p from p). But, even if the portrayal of the naturalist fallacy were spot on, what's with the "reflecting an 'is'" business? Suppose our moral judgments do reflect our evolved state. Then what? So what? Suppose we are superstitious, religious dualists. Wouldn't our moral judgments reflect our immaterial non-evolved state? There's a reason that few moral philosophers have really grappled with this challenge.

How can it be that such things get published?

Comments:
  • Tim, I fear it illustrates what happens when scientists try their hand at philosophy.
    Of course, it works both ways. Richard Feynman is one of my favourite writers, and often entertains the reader by illustrating how philosophers fail to get the point of scientific ideas. Some scientists then seem to assume that everything that comes out of a philosopher’s mouth is a misunderstood scientific idea.
    I remember attending a lecture by van Inwagen on ‘Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing’, and afterwards, a couple of physicists asked me to explain it. After a couple of sentences, one of them said ‘Well, he completely misunderstood Einstein.’ I tried explaining that neither van Inwagen, nor I, had mentioned Einstein, and furthermore that van Inwagen’s talk of ‘possible worlds’ was not dependent on his adopting a many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics. But they didn’t want to hear any more: their task was to enlighten me, a poor philosopher, about what Einstein really said, and why van Inwagen missed the point. Of course, I’m always glad to learn more physics, but what struck me was that they were convinced that they knew what van Inwagen had been saying better than I did, yet they were depending on me to report his words. Philosophers exist as a foil for scientists.
    Dawkins’ reading of Aquinas provides another example. Of course Dawkins is witty and irreverent and of course he disagrees with Aquinas. That’s what we expect, that’s the Richard Dawkins we all know and love. However, it is painfully obvious that he hasn’t studied any commentaries, fails to appreciate that Aquinas is using technical terminology, and so accuses Aquinas of making an ‘entirely unwarrented assumption’ that God’s existence does not itself require an infinite regress. It is as though it simply has not occured to him that trying to understand a Mediaeval thinker is a difficult process, and requires a bit of research. A scientist will spot in a couple of minutes obvious errors that theologians have been trained not to notice. (If philosophers were too lazy or too stupid to be scientists, theologians were too stupid or too dogmatic to be philosophers). To be fair to Dawkins, he is right to criticise philosophers and theologians who completely fail to understand the significance of the anthropic principle.
    Moral: whatever your discipline, be careful when crossing disciplinary boundaries.

    June 14, 2007 — 13:00
  • I think that just like sometimes there is a serious point buried in the very poor formulations in the intro papers, the last quote does seem to me to be an attempt to pose an interesting challenge, namely Plantinga’s argument that naturalism plus evolution undermines all our apparent knowledge, in the special case of moral knowledge.
    And in the special case of moral beliefs, the argument does seem particularly plausible. The a priori likelihood that evolutionary processes would lead to people having mostly right moral beliefs seems quite low, doesn’t it?
    Even if one could make stick against Plantinga the argument that correct scientific knowledge would be evolutionarily useful, and that would be no mean accomplishment, it would harder to argue that correct moral knowledge would be evolutionarily useful.
    Thinking about the evolution of cooperation (I recently was at a workshop at Harvard on this) does suggest that some moral beliefs that also happen to be correct (e.g., beliefs about the appropriateness of retribution, or about the value of cooperation) have survival value under certain circumstances. But it is far from clear–indeed, it is rather unlikely–that one is going to get all that much of morality that way.
    So there is a serious challenge here to naturalistic moral philosophers.

    June 15, 2007 — 10:50
  • Tim Pawl

    Ben,
    I think you are right on with your commentary. I’ve had a similar experience to your van Inwagen experience at an evolution and altruism conference at Calvin some 8 or 9 years ago. I was asked by a scientist there to explain the notion of a defeater that Plantinga used. About 2 sentences into the explanation I was interrupted and told where Plantinga’s error was. Of course, it wasn’t.
    Philosophers do the same thing. It is especially dangerous for we philosophers whose interests are in other fields, like theology.
    And I LOVED that clever parenthetical about scientists, philosophers and theologians.
    Alex,
    I don’t think that’s what the editor had in mind, but I may be wrong.
    I don’t have an opinion on whether the a priori likelihood of people having “mostly right moral beliefs” is low. Do you think that (most; many; all?) people do have mostly right moral beliefs now?
    PvI has a thought experiment in his (Westview) Metaphysics introduction concerning a town where everyone’s alarm clock is set to the precise time they have to get up for work. The consequences in this town for getting to work late are death (ouch). He says we can’t conclude that there is design in the clocks being set right, because, for all we know, it could be that the town’s population with poorly set clocks just died off, leaving the population with properly set clocks.
    I think the same sort of argument can be run here. There may be reason to think that groups of rational agents that evolved without whatever part of the brain that reliably produces moral beliefs died off. I’m sure we can think of stories as to why that would happen. The only folk left would be those who have that part of the brain that reliable provides moral beliefs. That would explain why people have moral beliefs that aren’t directly evolutionarily advantageous. Just like we can explain why people can see things that aren’t directly evolutionarily advantageous by pointing to the reliable sight mechanism.
    Tim

    June 15, 2007 — 12:32
  • Devin Carpenter

    “That might very well be a priori unlikely, but who said that being made in the image of God meant that God had a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as an upright ape?”
    What exactly does being “made in the image of God” mean then? We don’t have the same emotions, evolutionary history etc. Are you claiming we have the same physical characteristics (i.e. nose, hair, two legs)? You have disparaged the scientists view of “in the image of God,” what is yours?
    Of course the naturalistic fallacy is more complicated. But, as any journalist will tell you, and this is an editorial, space will not let one wax indignant on the fine points of philosophical inquiry. His description of the naturalistic fallacy is comprable to any introductory text, and that’s all he needs.
    His point, as I read it, is simply that the brain has evolved in a way that facilitates moral action (aversion to murder, self-interest, emotion etc.).

    June 15, 2007 — 17:11
  • Tim Pawl

    Dear Devin Carpenter,
    Thanks for the response.
    No, I’m not claiming that we have the same physical characteristics as God does. I don’t see how anything I said in my post could lead someone to think that I was claiming that humans and God have the same physical characteristics.
    I “disparaged” the scientist’s view of the image of God because it is a straw man. My own view of what it is to be made in the image of God isn’t that important. What’s important is that the editor, when using the term “image of God”, uses it in a way that Christians would affirm. Even a google search of “made in the image of God” gives some good resources for learning about it. I’d suggest searching “image of God” on newadvent.org for more on common Christian understandings of “image of God”.
    However, since you asked, I’d say that being made in the image of God is being endowed with an intellectual nature. humans aren’t made in God’s image because we have hair and noses, or because we have the same perceptual framework as God does. We’re made in God’s image because we can love and we can think rationally. That’s Thomas Aquinas’s view, the Catholic church’s view, and I bet the view of many other Christian groups.
    I wasn’t looking for the editor to “wax indignant on the fine points of philosophical inquiry.” Why would I want the editor to be indignant, waxingly or otherwise, about the finer points of philosophical inquiry?
    Suppose you are right and that his point is that the brain has evolved in a way that facilitates moral action. I don’t see how that provides a new challenge to the naturalistic fallacy. That doesn’t show that one can derive an ought from an is, or even–so far as I can see–give reason to think that ought claims can sometimes follow from is claims. Couldn’t it be the case that the brain evolved to facilitate moral action and one can’t derive an ought from an is? If so, I don’t see how your reading captures the claims of the editor.

    June 15, 2007 — 18:13
  • Another common view of the image of God is that it has to do with moral responsibility.
    I think the most plausible view is that it isn’t an intrinsic property at all but a teleological purpose to represent God among the rest of creation as the steward over it. That design would require certain properties, such as intelligence of a certain sort and moral responsibility, but those properties aren’t what it means to be in the image of God. Being made in the image of God, on this view, is being designed and intended to image God to creation.

    June 15, 2007 — 22:02
  • Devin Carpenter

    Tim Pawl,
    Thanks for the quick response. I’ll write more in a bit. But, for now I would just like to point out that you said:
    “The presentation of the naturalistic argument is wrong…”
    I said:
    My point is this: this was in editorial. His presentation was short becuase of necessity, not becuase he lacked the knowledge of a first year writing an “intro paper.”
    You replied by saying: “Why would I want the editor to be indignant, waxingly or otherwise, about the finer points of philosophical inquiry?”
    I’m not sure why I wrote “indignant” (wrong choice of word), but you obviously wanted the writer to go into great detail concerning the naturalistic fallacy (“the naturalistic fallacy goes further than just rejecting the deontic conclusion of []p from p”), something which is unnecessary in an editorial of this kind. Your criticism is unwarranted.

    June 16, 2007 — 11:39
  • Devin Carpenter

    The full editorial:
    “The vast majority of scientists, and the majority of religious people, see little potential for pleasure or progress in the conflicts between religion and science that are regularly fanned into flame by a relatively small number on both sides of the debate. Many scientists are religious, and perceive no conflict between the values of their science — values that insist on disinterested, objective inquiry into the nature of the Universe — and those of their faith.
    But there are lines that should not be crossed, and in a recent defence of his beliefs and disbeliefs in the matter of evolution, US Senator Sam Brownback (Republican, Kansas) crosses at least one. Senator Brownback was one of three Republican presidential candidates who, in a recent debate, described himself as not believing in evolution. He sought to explain his position with greater nuance in a 31 May article in The New York Times, in which he wrote: “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as science.”
    Humans evolved, body and mind, from earlier primates. The ways in which humans think reflect this heritage as surely as the ways in which their limbs are articulated, their immune systems attack viruses and the cones in their eyes process coloured light. This applies not just to the way in which our neurons fire, but also to various aspects of our moral thought, as we report this week in a News Feature on the moral connotations of disgust (see page 768). The way that disgust functions in our lives and shapes our moral decisions reflects not just cultural training, but also biological evolution. Current theorizing on this topic, although fascinating, may be wide of the mark. But its basis in the idea that human minds are the product of evolution is not atheistic theology. It is unassailable fact.
    This does not utterly invalidate the idea that the human mind is, as Senator Brownback would have it, a reflection of the mind of God. But the suggestion that any entity capable of creating the Universe has a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as that of an upright ape adapted to living in small, intensely social peer-groups on the African savannah seems a priori unlikely.
    In Brownback’s defence, it should be acknowledged that these are deep waters. It is fairly easy to accept the truth of evolution when it applies to the external world — the adaptation of the orchid to wasps, for example, or the speed of the cheetah. It is much harder to accept it internally — to accept that our feelings, intuitions, the ways in which we love and loathe, are the product of experience, evolution and culture alone. And such acceptance has challenges for the unbeliever, too. Moral philosophers often put great store by their rejection of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’, the belief that because something is a particular way, it ought to be that way. Now we learn that untutored beliefs about ‘what ought to be’ do, in fact, reflect an ‘is’: the state of the human mind as an evolved entity. Accepting this represents a challenge that few as yet have really grappled with.
    It remains uncertain how the new sciences of human behaviour emerging at the intersections of anthropology, evolutionary biology and neuropsychology can best be navigated. But that does not justify their denunciation on the basis of religious faith alone. Scientific theories of human nature may be discomforting or unsatisfying, but they are not illegitimate. And serious attempts to frame them will reflect the origins of the human mind in biological and cultural evolution, without reference to a divine creation.”

    June 16, 2007 — 11:45
  • Devin Carpenter

    1. It is misleading that when you claimed this sentence:
    “With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.”
    was itself part of the editorial. It is stupid, yes, but I’m not sure if one can attribute it to the author of the editorial itself or simply to stupid editing since it is simply a heading for the editorial itself.
    2. You then say:
    “but who said that being made in the image of God meant that God had a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as an upright ape?”
    The author tells you who says this: Sam Brownback. Strangely you never mention that the editorial is about the senator from Kansas, and you shorten the quote in question. The full quote reads:
    “This does not utterly invalidate the idea that the human mind is, AS SAM BROWNBACK WOULD HAVE IT, a reflection of the mind of God. But the suggestion that any entity capable of creating the Universe has a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as that of an upright ape adapted to living in small, intensely social peer-groups on the African savannah seems a priori unlikely.” (emphasis mine)
    He is clearly not using a straw man, but replying directly to the beliefs of Sen. Brownback. Your quote is very misleading in this regard.
    3. Reading the full editorial, I think you have misread the author’s last point. Unless I have misunderstood you, I think your reading is that the author is simply making the observation that what “is” true about the feelings our mind produces and the “oughts” in our respective moral systems “reflect” each other. But, indeed, the point is much deeper. As the author states:
    “It is much harder to accept it internally — to accept that our feelings, intuitions, the ways in which we love and loathe, are the product of experience, evolution and culture alone.”
    I believe he is musing on the “challenges of a non-believer” who concludes that morals are simply feelings shaped by evolution and culture and not statements that describe facts about the world. The authors point is that while this may be “discomforting or unsatisfying,” religious faith should not stop scientific inquiry as Sam Brownback (there is that name again, never mentioned in your post) has proposed ( “Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as science.” Here, Brownback’s ‘truth’ is the bible…)

    June 16, 2007 — 12:03
  • Tim Pawl

    Dear Devin Carpenter,
    Thanks for posting the whole editorial. But, you did forget the very first line of it, the line I found most odious: “With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.”
    As for what I wanted from the editor, I didn’t want what you claim I wanted: “you obviously wanted the writer to go into great detail concerning the naturalistic fallacy.” How was my supposed desire for great detail obvious? I know that there are space constraints on editorials. I didn’t want great detail concerning the naturalistic fallacy. What I did want was an apt portrayal of it, which doesn’t, in itself, necessitate great detail or waxing on the finer points of philosophical inquiry.

    June 16, 2007 — 12:03
  • Devin Carpenter

    (Note: I responded to your post above, if you missed it.)
    The line you were complaining about is itself not part of the actual editorial.
    I suppose I am simply confused on why you think the naturalistic fallacy was not portrayed correctly.
    Jerry Coyne goes into more detail concerning Sen. Brownback here:
    http://edge.org/3rd_culture/coyne07/coyne07_index.html

    June 16, 2007 — 12:10
  • Tim Pawl

    This is a response to your comment at 12:03.
    Ad 1: It is true that the very first sentence may not have been authored by the editor who authored the rest of the editorial. Perhaps some other editor added it to the editor’s editorial. But, nevertheless, that doesn’t disprove anything I said. Even if it is written by someone else and tacked on to the editorial, my question of how that can be published is still a reasonable question. And, my pointing it out that it is silly (or, as you call it, stupid) doesn’t seem affected either.
    Ad 2: I didn’t mention Senator Brownback because the quotations of his included in the editorial didn’t support the interpretation of “image of God” as requiring God to have the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as upright apes. You say of the editor: He is clearly not using a straw man, but replying directly to the beliefs of Sen. Brownback. The editorial doesn’t provide any evidence that Sen Brownback said anything about emotional structures or perceptual foundations. What Senator Brownback is quoted as saying lends no support to the bogus understanding of “image of God” used in the editorial. Do you have any evidence that Sen Brownback said that it being true that man “reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order” means that God has the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as upright apes? If you do, why do you think that quotation (which would support the editor’s claims much better than the quotation the editor gave from Sen Brownback) didn’t make it in the editorial. If you don’t have any evidence that the editor is using Brownback’s own understanding of what it is to be made in the image of God, why are you making this claim?
    Ad 3: It may be that I misread the point the editor was making, though I didn’t read the author as saying merely that the truths about our feelings and the oughts of morality reflect each other. I read the author as saying that there is a new insight from science that tells us that our moral judgments reflect the “is” of the human mind being evolved. And, that this reflecting relation of the “ought” to the “is” is relevant to the naturalistic fallacy. The problem there is that the naturalistic fallacy tells us that we can’t deduce an ought claim from is claims. I don’t see how the new found reflecting matters with respect to the naturalistic fallacy. This, together with the subpar representation of the naturalistic fallacy, leads me to think that the author may be treading too deeply. And, again, I don’t see how my omission of Brownback’s name is relevant here. Brownback isn’t quoted as saying that religous faith should stop scientific inquiry. Again, do you have justification for the claim that Brownback did propose that religious faith should stop scientific inquiry? Again, if you do, why do you think such a quotation (which would have been so helpful in the editorial) was omitted? Again, if you don’t have any evidence that Brownback proposed what you say he claimed, why are you saying it here?

    June 16, 2007 — 12:36
  • Devin Carpenter

    Just a few quick things, before I read your response again:
    1) Sam Brownback laid out his views in a New York Times editorial. I will post the full editorial in a bit.
    2) You say:
    “Again, do you have justification for the claim that Brownback did propose that religious faith should stop scientific inquiry?”
    Yes, I do. In the New York Times editorial, Brownback writes:
    “Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as science.”
    Here, Brownback’s ‘truth’ is the word of God interpreted through the Bible. The claim is clear: if science doesn’t fit with the word of God, then it should not be accepted but “rejected as atheistic theology posing as science.”
    More in a bit.

    June 16, 2007 — 13:26
  • Devin Carpenter

    Sam Brownbacks New York Times Editorial:
    “IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.
    The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.
    The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.
    People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.
    The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.
    There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.
    The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.
    Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.
    Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.
    The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.
    While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.
    Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.”
    Jerry Coyne’s response:
    http://edge.org/3rd_culture/coyne07/coyne07_index.html

    June 16, 2007 — 13:30
  • Tim Pawl

    I ask:
    “Again, do you have justification for the claim that Brownback did propose that religious faith should stop scientific inquiry?”
    You respond:
    Yes, I do. In the New York Times editorial, Brownback writes:
    “Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as science.”

    I don’t know how what you cite here can be evidence for the claim that Brownback proposed that faith should stop scientific enquiry. Brownback claims that people should reject aspects of evolutionary theories that undermine the truth [which is: “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order”]. You get from this that he proposes that religious faith should stop scientific inquiry. It looks to me that you are reading much more into Brownback’s claims than what he actually said.
    And, while I don’t want to digress further than I already have down tangents, I think Jerry Coyne’s response makes some blunders similar to those in the Nature editorial.

    June 16, 2007 — 13:52
  • Devin Carpenter

    HOW SAM BROWNBACK STOPS SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY
    He says:
    “The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.”
    This is a Christian faith statement. (A scientologist might equally have a belief of humans being given souls by “Xenu” as a “fundamental truth that must be safeguarded). Moreover, this is also a faith statment: “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order.” Brownback has no proof for this, he simply asserts it becuase of his own cultural upbringing and faith.
    This doctrine would stop scientific enquiry if science “undermined this truth.” Evolution certainly undermines the truth of creation (especially in the literal sense) and so Brownback wishes to cast of most of evolutionary biology (he endorses micro-evolution, but dismisses macro) as atheistic theology.
    How is this not calling for a stop to scientific inquiry?
    1. Brownback holds belief A that is taken on faith.
    2. The scientific method shows belief A is false.
    3. Brownback holds that if science shows belief A to be wrong, science is simply practicing atheistic theology and shouldn’t be believed.
    4. Evolutionary biology shows belief A to be wrong.
    5. Brownback, therefore, thinks evolutionary biology is atheistic theology and should not be believed.
    6. Brownback’s initial faith belief causes him to reject evolutionary biology.

    June 16, 2007 — 15:18
  • Tim Pawl

    Again, nothing you say shows that Sen. Brownback proposed that religious faith should stop scientific inquiry.
    Not only does Sen. Brownback not propose that scientific inquiry should be stopped by religious faith, he says that no stone should be left unturned when searching for the truth about man’s origin.
    It looks for all the world to me that you are trying to get Brownback to say something he didn’t say. And I think you are failing.
    This conversation is now far-removed from the original post. My original point was that the first line of the editorial (whether written by the author or not) was odious, the author misunderstood and mischaracterized what it is to be made in the image of God, and that the author’s bit about the naturalistic fallacy was confused. I don’t think you’ve shown any of that to be false, and I don’t think there’s much chance that anything in the current trajectory of this conversation will show any of what I said in the original post false.

    June 16, 2007 — 15:44
  • Devin Carpenter

    Tim Pawl,
    Very well. I’m confused which number (1-6) you actually deny. I have put no words in Brownback’s mouth.
    Nice talking to you.

    June 16, 2007 — 15:46
  • Tim Pawl

    I would be in a better position to know which of 1-6 I would deny if I knew what “A” refers to in your argument. I’ll assume it is the claim:
    “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order”
    If it isn’t this claim, I don’t have reason to affirm 3.
    I guess I don’t see how the scientific method (a method!) can show “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order” to be false. So, I don’t think I’d affirm 2.
    I guess I don’t see why evolutionary biology is inconsistent with “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order” either. isn’t it possible that evolutionary biology is true AND God intended evolutionary biology to bring about creatures with an intellect and the ability to love? If that is possible, how does evolutionary biology show “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order” false?
    But, more to the point, even if all of 1-6 are true, the argument wouldn’t prove that Sen Brownback “stops scientific inquiry” or that Sen Brownback proposed that religious faith should stop scientific inquiry. At most, your argument gets that he rejects evolutionary biology. You need some steps that get from that to his proposal that religious faith should stop scientific inquiry, or that Brownback stops scientific inquiry. And, yet again, you haven’t shown that.
    But, suppose you had. Suppose you had shown that Brownback does stop scientific inquiry, or that he has proposed that religious faith should stop scientific inquiry. That still doesn’t show anything in my original post false.

    June 16, 2007 — 16:09
  • 2, 4, 5, and 6 are all false. Brownback doesn’t explicitly reject anything in evolutionary theory, and he doesn’t give any specifically scientific conclusions that do conflict what the one thing he says he knows to be true (God’s teleological purposes).
    So as far as he says, the only aspects of anyone’s evolutionary theory he rejects are the parts that some atheistic evolutionary theorists add about the nonexistence of God and the nonexistence of divine purposes. Therefore, it’s a bit strange to accuse him of saying that he thinks evolutionary theory shows that his one clear claim is false. It doesn’t show that, and he realizes that even if scientists like Coyne who are trying to pass off their amateur philosophical fallacies as science don’t realize it.
    As for the Coyne piece, his arguments are extremely unfair to Brownback for the same reasons I’ve just outlined, but he also makes some huge philosophical blunders and then calls his reasoning science. There’s his fallacious inference from the fact of diversity about moral and religious beliefs to the non-factual nature of such beliefs and his fallacious inference from the fact that some beliefs classified as “spiritual beliefs” are clearly false to the conclusion that all such beliefs are untrustworthy (at least that’s what I think he’s implying; he doesn’t give his conclusion, but he’s got to mean something insulting to religious believers, or there’d be no point in saying this). There’s his epistemological fallacy concluding that because we can’t determine with scientific rigor if any religious system is absolutely certain that there must be no rationality to any of it. These are philosophical mistakes of a pretty serious magnitude, at least as serious as any genuine scientific mistakes Brownback made (although the worst of what Coyne attributes to Brownback seriously misinterprets him in about as uncharitable way as can be done).
    But I think my biggest problem with Coyne is that his philosophical assumptions are completely undefended and yet serve as the basis of everything he says, which he then goes on to take to have the authority of science. Almost nothing of substance in what he says is grounded in science, and what is is largely an attack on views Brownback didn’t actually assert and in some cases implicitly denied. And then he goes on about how dangerous it is to have “dogmatic certainty about the real world based on faith”.

    June 16, 2007 — 20:18
  • Devin Carpenter

    Jeremy Pierce,
    Could you give quotes so I could respond? Thanks.

    June 16, 2007 — 21:21
  • Quotes? You’re the one who linked to the piece. I’m assuming you have access to it.

    June 16, 2007 — 22:53
  • Devin Carpenter

    Jeremy,
    Yes, I have access to it. I just don’t want to misunderstand you, and it would help a lot if you pointed out the actual points that are fallacious using his own words.
    Thanks

    June 17, 2007 — 9:19
  • Devin,
    Because of Tim’s reservations about getting into this in detail here, I’ve posted my criticisms of Coyne at my own blog.

    June 18, 2007 — 10:24
  • Tim Pawl

    Jeremy,
    I appreciated your criticisms of Coyne. Many of them are the same criticisms I would have made, and I don’t remember any criticisms I would have made that you didn’t write on.
    My reservations about getting into it were because it is tangential to the points I was making, and I already thought the conversation was veering off. Plus, I’m lazy… 🙂
    But, I do appreciate your thoughts on Coyne, and I’m glad that you took the time to write them up for us.
    Best,
    Tim

    June 18, 2007 — 11:08
  • Dave2

    I take it the comments here are currently dead, but for the record, the way the naturalistic fallacy is being presented is WAYYYYYY off. I mean, WAYYYYYY off. But it’s a common mistake. Maybe (shudder) it even shows up in introductory textbooks.
    The article says it’s “the belief that because something is a particular way, it ought to be that way”. So, for example, if the Irish are poor, then the Irish ought to be poor. Or, if women are uneducated, then women ought to be uneducated. The fallacious inference is driven by complacency with the world as it stands.
    But the naturalistic fallacy has nothing to do with any of that. I would hope no one needs to be told this, but the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ comes from G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica. In it, Moore is concerned to show that the concept good is unanalyzable and that the property goodness is non-natural. He identifies the naturalistic fallacy as the inference that, just because some natural feature of things is such that everything that’s good has it and everything that has it is good (a natural feature like e.g. being pleasurable), it therefore follows that this natural feature can be identified with the property goodness or that our concept good can be analyzed in terms of this natural feature. In other words, what Moore insists is that, even if you’ve found the characteristic that makes things good, that doesn’t mean you’ve settled the semantics and metaphysics of intrinsic value.
    Maybe you don’t get Moore, I don’t know. But I hope it’s obvious that this has precisely zero to do with the sort of ‘the world is fine as-is’ fallacy mentioned above. It’s not like the fallacy is a simplified version of Moore; I’m not just being a pedant. These are completely different points.

    July 4, 2007 — 17:56
  • I’m less sure that there is a lot of confusion about the fairly elementary (and frankly pretty bad) Moorean argument. Perhaps the article makes this alleged error, given the best exegesis, I’m not sure. But the proper exegesis of the article is vexed. Who knows what the best formulation of the error is, the article is so poorly articulated. At the very least, it is reasonable to worry about the attempt to derive normative claims from factual claims, even granting that this is a cousin of Moore’s allegedly fallacious inference.

    July 4, 2007 — 20:26
  • Dave2

    Mike, I’m really not sure I understand what you’re saying. I’ll try again.
    The article says the naturalistic fallacy is the complacent moralist’s fallacy: women are uneducated, so therefore women ought to be uneducated. Things are this way, so therefore they ought to be this way. But this has nothing to do with Moore. After all, it has nothing to do with the general issue of reducing normative claims to factual claims, or (less Moore, more Hume on is and ought) of deriving normative claims from factual claims. And that’s where the fallacy targeted by Moore shows up: roughly, the fallacy of jumping from “this is the natural characteristic that makes things valuable” to “claims concerning value are nothing but claims concerning this natural characteristic”.
    So what the article identifies as the naturalistic fallacy has nothing to do with what Moore calls ‘the naturalistic fallacy’.

    July 5, 2007 — 4:43
  • Dave2,
    Agreed. I thought you were after the many criticisms of the article above, which seems largely right to me, rather than the article. You write,
    Things are this way, so therefore they ought to be this way. But this has nothing to do with Moore
    Still, I’m not sure it has nothing to do with Moore. That’s an awfully strong claim. Suppose I make an inference from the way things are to how good they are. (We can move next from how good things are to how things ought to be, if you like)
    1. The world is filled with pleasureable things.
    2./:. The world is filled with good things.
    The inference is evidently enthymematic. Certainly, I might be assuming that every pleasurable thing is good. Or I might be assuming that things are pleasurable iff. good. But I might be assuming the identity of the relevant properties. It’s just not obvious how I intend to make the inference valid. In the last case, it would have something to do with Moore, I take it. All I had in mind was that, regarding inferences like this one, it isn’t obvious that they have nothing to do with Moore. But I agree that it is not obvious that they do, either.

    July 5, 2007 — 8:56
  • Dave2

    OK, so maybe I should say it has nothing special to do with Moore. For the inference “Things are this way, so therefore they ought not to be this way” has just as much to do with Moore as “Things are this way, so therefore they ought to be this way”. In any case, the latter inference ought not to be paraded under the title ‘the naturalistic fallacy’, not unless it follows a big disclaimer about where the term came from and how it’s used by Moore and metaethicists.
    (At this point, I’m really just sticking up for a pet peeve)

    July 5, 2007 — 16:33
  • . . . the latter inference ought not to be paraded under the title ‘the naturalistic fallacy’
    Absolutely, no question about that. It takes a very generous reading to make it relevant.

    July 5, 2007 — 17:49