Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Defending the Ivory Tower

Philosophers like Victor Reppert and Keith Parsons long for the good old days, when they could sit in their ivory tower and have cordial debates about esoteric philosophical arguments.  As long as the atheists in the room remained duly respectful and didn't push their own beliefs too hard, everything was fine.  And the atheist philosophers among them played the game.  Being educated in the intricacies of high-brow theistic philosophy, they could hold their own in these debates while being careful not to offend their religious counterparts.  The trick to this is pretending that all arguments deserve equal respect, as long as they are made by a member of the elitist club in the ivory tower.*

Philosophy of religion (POR) is quite unlike science or mathematics, where a hypothesis or proof of a theorem can be shown to be false, and once that is done, the community converges on an agreement that it is false, and abandons it.  In POR, when an argument is shown to be logically invalid, or its premises are unsupported by factual knowledge, there is no consensus in the community.  They simply divide themselves into camps that either agree with the argument or disagree with it.  But the cordial debate goes on in the ivory tower.  So while science and mathematics have made solid and beneficial contributions to the knowledge of mankind, POR really hasn't contributed anything tangible.  They just keep debating the same tired arguments, endlessly.

There was a time when belief in God was reasonable as an explanation for what we could observe about nature.  But science, with its vastly superior explanations and its consistent record of success, has made it far less reasonable to cling to such beliefs.  Even atheist PORs agree on this.  Yet they are reluctant to openly declare that belief in God is unreasonable.  They prefer instead to keep the old theistic arguments alive, and debate them without bringing science into the discussion.  They have managed to refute most, if not all, of the theistic arguments on their own logical deficiencies.  Graham Oppy's book Arguing About Gods groups these arguments into categories and then systematically refutes each category on logical grounds.  A few years ago, Keith Parsons wrote an essay stating that there were no good arguments for god, and he didn't want to teach them to students of philosophy any longer.  He has since backed off from his desire to leave the ivory tower, but he still believes that there is no convincing theistic argument.  Yet he continues to give those arguments respect.

And now the barbarians are at the gate.  People who are not trained in POR are joining in the discussion, and the ivory tower elitists don't like it.  It rocks their comfortable little world.  If a mathematician calls out the blatant mathematical errors in WL Craig's theistic arguments, Parsons is quick to defend Craig.  Scientists like Dawkins, Coyne, and Krauss are writing popular books that attempt to refute God belief, not so much from a philosophical perspective, but from a more scientific perspective that embodies factual knowledge and scientific reasoning rather than esoteric philosophical concepts.  The POR elitists are outraged by this.  "You can't do that," they cry.  "You don't understand it."  And the elitists in the ivory tower, both theist and atheist alike, proceed to attack them and label them "New Atheists" or gnus, and declare that their arguments are not worth listening to.  That's what Feser did in his review of Coyne's latest book, which I examined in an earlier post.

Feser's review was loaded with juvenile invective and ad hominem attacks, but it failed to address the main issues that Coyne discussed in his book.  That's why I was quite surprised to read Parsons' response to it, which said, in part
If what is done by Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Coyne is the “new” atheism, then I am an ­unapologetic advocate of “old” atheism. That is, I favor atheist advocacy that is argument-dense and skips the invective. Lampooning your opponents as ignorant Bible-beaters may be lowbrow fun, but it is bad manners, and, more to the point, ineffective. Don’t call them names. Defeat their arguments. That is the worst thing you can do to them. However, defeating your opponents’ arguments requires (a) taking their best arguments seriously, and (b) doing your philosophical homework. “Old” atheism is therefore hard. Caricaturing with broad strokes is easy, but it cannot be said to advance rational debate. - Parsons
Please note that Parsons is praising Feser's juvenile review, which contains all the elements that Parsons claims he despises when New Atheists use them.  Invective?  Check.  Lampooning your opponent?  Check.  Failing to take their arguments seriously?  Check.  Is this not hypocrisy?

When the New Atheists attempt to address the traditional theistic arguments, it invariably lands them in hot water, because they are deemed to be unqualified to answer the arguments of the elitists.  If Richard Dawkins took his argument straight from Oppy's book, it wouldn't matter.  The elitists would still reject it as being ignorant.  When Jerry Coyne takes on Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism (which is based largely on a lack of understanding of real evolutionary processes), Feser steps in to declare that Coyne is stupid and doesn't understand the argument.  This is an argument about evolution.  Feser scores some valid points by nitpicking at the periphery, but he misses the bigger picture altogether.  The EAAN is a philosophical fantasy that ignores what actually happens in nature.  Feser even attacks Coyne for the crime of using the dictionary as a source of definition for words.  His use of ad hominem is de jure.

Note that this kind of attack from the ivory tower is waged against those who are perceived as gnus.  They would never engage their fellow elitists in such a manner as this, nor would they tolerate such behavior from anyone.  Reppert decries the supposed lack of civility in internet discussions these days, which he blames entirely on the gnus.
Let me make something clear. There are ways on the atheist side of keeping things civil. Before I ran into new atheists I had many, many, respectful discussions with nonbelievers, and that includes passionate nonbelievers. What I have noticed, and it's something I trace back to Dawkins, is a shift in the nature of the discussion. I remember being surprised by it in a couple of discussion groups I got into before I even opened this blog. There are people on the other side who see the disagreement between belief and unbelief to be not just a debate but a war, and who want to mobilize a people who use ridicule, not in a offhanded way, or a way that is aimed at entertainment, but aimed at providing people with a social, not an epistemic, motivation for abandoning belief based on fear of ridicule. This ridicule is not for the benefit of the believers they are debating. They are written off as hopeless. No, it is used as a tool to demotivate religious belief amongst the low-information believers in the flock, who might be influenced by "naked contempt." Your debating partner is a pawn in a game, the end justifies the means. - Reppert
The elitists in the ivory tower have a comfortable little gig.  They make a living by politely debating each other, endlessly, without ever coming to a conclusion that is useful to the rest of the world.  They defend each other, even when they believe the arguments of their fellow elitists are bad.  They believe that even the worst of those arguments are equally worthy of consideration.  But they are uninterested in hearing views from the barbarians outside, even when those views are well-reasoned and have the support of scientific consensus.  Any argument made by a New Atheist that touches on the topic of God or God belief is deemed to be a matter of philosophy, which they are not qualified to discuss without earning the scorn of the elitists.

I have a suggestion for the POR elitists that will make us all happy.  Lock yourselves away in your ivory tower.  Close the curtains and don't ever look outside.  Most of all, turn off your internet access.  You can go on politely debating each other and accomplishing nothing for eternity.  You won't ever have to listen to anyone like Coyne or Krauss.  Meanwhile, the rest of us will carry on, and we'll manage somehow to survive without you. In fact, I dare say most of us won't miss you a bit.

*Please note that I do not consider all philosophers of religion to be elitists ensconced in the ivory tower.  This is about the ones who display that elitist attitude.


  1. A delightful and insightful critique into the anachronistic class of 'philosopher-kings' in contemporary society, those self-described and self-identified doyens of philosophical discourse. They are indeed legends in their own minds.

    Parsons, sadly, seems to have lost sight that the battle of ideas is not so much about the finer construct of the argument but the substance of the argument, whether the claims are verifiable or not. In his misplaced loyalty Parsons aids and abets the Fesers of the world who want you to believe, as someone I read elsewhere had written, that his [Feser's Catholic] God impregnated his own mother to give birth to his son who is himself, as if it were historical fact, meriting intellectual consideration as a truth.

    The problem is, today's operant philosophy tracks a more rigorous and evidentiary-based line of reasoning with its supervening metaphysics ever more deeply grounded, both epistemologically and intellectually, into its underpinning physics. Pontification has been replaced with verification. And the 'philosopher kings' don't like it one bit, even prepared to eat their own kind who might be perceived, wrongly or otherwise, as having crossed into their 'intellectual' territory.

    Philosophy of Religion is an exercise in rhetoric to its core; insubstantial, imaginative, with an unhinged metaphysics grounded in the supernatural, a wholly untestable and inconsequential line of reasoning that bears little resemblance to reality of the natural world.

    Parsons would do well to take stock.

  2. bad logic can be shown to be false. look at your posts.

  3. you guys are just anti-intellectual mindless robots. your little science empi9re is nothing g but bullshit. you have to oppose thinking and reason because your slave world of mind control would never stand up to real to thinking,

    1. new atheism is a cult, it's Orwellian mind control

    2. Joe,

      Back in the old days, Aristotle developed a way of thinking and understanding that blended logic, philosophy, and science into a unified whole. Modern philosophers of religion have turned philosophy into a game of justifying their religious beliefs, with logic falling to the wayside, and science vanishing altogether. Logic takes a backseat when they try to advance a theistic argument with some cleverly disguised fallacy. I believe it was James Lindsay who once said that theistic arguments are an exercise in "hiding the turd".

    3. That's just truth stipulation you are doing, you don't want to believe so you can't accept that your arguments are beaten so you just assert any view that disproves yours is a automatically held for serupticious reasons and is outmoded.

      I'm not surprised people who are brain washed into the Dawkie bully cult try to do philosophy by bulling.

    4. Why don't you make a reasoned response instead of of all these accusations?

  4. Hi, I'm not going to defend elitism, but I do want to object to one (minor?) point in your article. I don't like mind-reading when theists do it and I don't like mind-reading when atheists do it. You write as if you know Parsons' motivations. For example, you wrote:

    "Even atheist PORs agree on this. Yet they are reluctant to openly declare that belief in God is unreasonable. They prefer instead to keep the old theistic arguments alive, and debate them without bringing science into the discussion."

    "And now the barbarians are at the gate. People who are not trained in POR are joining in the discussion, and the ivory tower elitists don't like it. It rocks their comfortable little world."

    While you're at it, you forgot to add the old Christian claim that Parsons rejects God because he hates God.

    To be serious for a moment, since you are not him, your comments about his motivations are speculative at best.

    1. Jeffery,

      Yes, I do make some speculation about motivation. Is that forbidden? Obviously, I can't read minds, but I can offer my opinions about why people do or say certain things. I say that elitists are defending the ivory tower, and I try to give some rationale as to why. Clearly, this is a matter of opinion, not indisputable fact.

    2. If it is your opinion, then for the sake of accuracy you ought to make mention of that. Can you give an example of Parsons defending Craig making a mathematical error, or find an example of him doing anything close to that?

    3. I didn't say that Parsons specifically defended the bad logic. He defended Craig's prowess in theistic arguments.

    4. I'm not going to call it "forbidden." Instead, I'll say this. In my experience, when two people disagree and speculate about their opponent's motives, that increases the chances their speculations are incorrect. If they disagree and it becomes a very heated argument with personal insults, that really increases the chances their speculations are incorrect. (I'm not saying this applies to you.) So, when I find myself in either situation, I really try to make sure I am being charitable to the other person. But I usually just avoid saying anything at all about the other person's motives.

      Also, I'm not sure I agree that you have accurately summarized Parsons' position on what you call elitism. I don't remember getting the same impression from his article which you apparently did (that he was being elitist). But I could be wrong and I don't have the time right now to go re-read what he wrote.

    5. Defending Craig's prowess is very different than defending Craig's use of bad math against criticisms for his math being bad. I don't think Parsons would ever do anything like the latter despite your accusation.

    6. Did you see my previous comment? I didn't accuse him of that. What Parsons defends is his fellow elitists, even if they do make bad arguments.

  5. Can you give examples of arguments in the POR which are obviously invalid that the POR community is split over? Off the top of my head, I can't think of a single one.

    1. The Argument From Reason is based on presupposition of the supernatural mind, which amounts to circular reasoning.

    2. no it's not. It's based upon the idea of being present in your own mind and understanding thought, makes me th8ink you are being brain washed to accept being a philosophical zombie

    3. Would you care to expand on that? To me, the first premise

      No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

      is saying that non-rational matter can't give rise to rational thought. This is equivalent to the assertion that rational thought is immaterial, or supernatural. This is the assumption of the argument, which then goes on to conclude that there is no good reason to accept naturalism. Of course there isn't, if you assume something supernatural from the first premise. It's circular reasoning.

    4. Circular arguments are not invalid. If an argument is invalid then the conclusion cannot be derived from the premises. Obviously in circular arguments the conclusion can sometimes be derived from the premises, so an argument being circular is not a sufficient condition for it being invalid. e.g. If I was to argue that "1. P. Therefore, P", I would be making a circular argument, but it would be valid since P implies P.

      Circularity aside, as far as I'm aware, the arguments from reason are not arguments that the philosophical community are split over. Contra what Victor Reppert might tell you, I don't think many philosophers, even in the POR, are even aware of any arguments from reason. Supposing they are, can you cite any form of survey that shows the POR community is split on the arguments from reason?

  6. Hi im-skeptical,

    I have a couple of questions. You wrote:

    Philosophers like Victor Reppert and Keith Parsons long for the good old days, when they could sit in their ivory tower and have cordial debates about esoteric philosophical arguments.

    1. Do you think the description "esoteric philosophical arguments" is representative of Parson's written work which you have read?
    2. Off the top of your head, what would be some examples of "esoteric philosophical arguments"?

    I ask because when I think of atheist PoRs who have written about esoteric philosophical arguments, Parsons isn't on my list. The people on my list would be the late Jordan Howard Sobel, some of Quentin Smith's work, and Graham Oppy's work on the ontological argument.

    As long as the atheists in the room remained duly respectful and didn't push their own beliefs too hard, everything was fine. And the atheist philosophers among them played the game. Being educated in the intricacies of high-brow theistic philosophy, they could hold their own in these debates while being careful not to offend their religious counterparts.

    I am very surprised you would attribute the "respectful atheist" thing to Parsons. I remember after his first debate with WLC many theists complained he was disrespectful. And let us not forget that he founded the journal PHILO, the Journal of the Society of Humanist Philosophers. The whole purpose of PHILO was to refute theistic arguments. People like WLC wouldn't publish in it because he didn't want to support an atheistic journal.

    There are one or two atheists I can think of who the "respectful atheist" thing applies to. It definitely applied to the late William Rowe. It may also apply to J.L. Schellenberg. But Parsons? I'm not seeing it.

    The trick to this is pretending that all arguments deserve equal respect, as long as they are made by a member of the elitist club in the ivory tower.*

    At the risk of asking a stupid question, what do you mean by "equal respect"? Equal amount of space in a book? Any space at all? Or, if an argument does get space, not saying it is invalid, unsound, or logically correct, even when it is?

    1. By 'esoteric' I mean all those arguments that PhD scientists branded as "New Atheist" are too stupid to understand. This is one of the main complaints I hear over and over again.

      As for 'respectful', I am referring to the the kind of attitude with which they treat their fellow philosophers, as opposed to the scornful way they treat "New Atheists". Now you seem to be making the case here that Parsons really isn't that respectful. Perhaps it's just an image they're trying to project. But he and Reppert, as well as others, decry the loss of that respectful attitude.

      As for equal respect, I've seen some arguments that seem really bad to me, but they are taken seriously and given even-handed treatment, while a similarly bad argument from a "New Atheist" doesn't merit that same treatment.

    2. Got it. I think specific examples would be helpful.

      Esoteric: Dawkin's 'Ultimate 747 Gambit' (or whatever it is called) misunderstands the concept of God most theists believe in, by assuming that God is complex/made up of many parts. I don't think that is "esoteric." Do you?

      Respectful: I have seen Parsons do both. I've seen him be respectful to Feser's and Reppert's arguments, while disrespectful to Norman Geisler (a Christian philosopher), Ken Ham, and others. So it varies.

      Equal respect: A long time ago Parsons wrote something on presuppositional apologetics. I don't think he was respectful to the presupper's argument there: http://infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/jones-parsons-martin/parsons.html

    3. Jeffery,

      This response seems to support my thesis. It's OK as long as it's not a New Atheist making the argument.

      As for the question of Dawkins' misunderstanding: you could assume that the concept of divine simplicity is beyond his comprehension, or you could take a more charitable look at what he's saying, which seems to be a reasonable reply to the Argument from Design that doesn't make extraneous assumptions about the nature of God, which would put him in the company of David Hume.

  7. I'm not following you. Sorry if I am being dense. How does my pointing out examples of where he was disrespectful to some theists support your thesis? In the article responding to Jones, I thought it was clear he didn't take Jones seriously. Or is it your complaint that he responded to Jones at all? (Sent from phone, please excuse any typos)

    1. Part of my thesis, anyway. To the extent that this kind of behavior occurs among members of the club, it doesn't seem to cause too much consternation. But New Atheists are blamed, often unfairly, for the same sort of thing.

      Coyne's book prompted accusations from Parsons of ridiculing and lampooning, but it was Feser's review that actually did that. Why blame Coyne instead of Feser? because he's not a member of the club.

    2. Consider the following explanations.

      H1. When atheistic philosophical elitsts ridicule and lampoon certain beliefs or arguments, they can get away with it. But when "new" atheists do so, they get blamed unfairly.

      H2. When "old" atheists ridicule or lampoon certain beliefs, they know what they are talking about. But when "new" atheists do so, sometimes they know what they are talking about and sometimes their "ridicule" simply reveals their ignorance.

      Why prefer H1 over H2?

    3. What I'm saying is that there is an attitude of elitism among some subset of PoRs. They believe that only fellow PoRs can make any good argument for or against God belief. They reject the arguments of others without giving them fair consideration. They are especially biased against certain people they label as "New Atheists", often unjustly accusing them of boorish behavior, while at the same time, ignoring such behavior on the part of their fellow PoRs. They make statements about how they prefer to carry on discussions in the more civilized company their fellows.

    4. It is difficult to pin Jeff down to an answer. He is a parable-er [my neologism. Phonetic: /pəræ'bələ/] and a liker of play-on semantics. Not only does his H1 v H2 example characterise that proclivity but the implied notion that 'old atheist' "know what their talking about", because other 'old atheists' say so, smacks of a little touch of hubris, methinks.

    5. Hubris indeed. This is disappointing. I tried to reason with Parsons about Feser's shitty review of Coyne, and he wouldn't even listen. The attitude of "We're smarter than the rest of the world" comes across loud and clear. They love to harp about the ignorance of others, but refuse to admit that even they can be wrong about some things, just like the rest of us.

  8. Papalinton: You say it is difficult to pin me down to an answer, but in the exchange between im-skeptical and I, I was the one asking the questions. But in response to the rest of your comment, let me be clear:

    1. I reject the "old atheists" vs. "new atheists" labels because I don't think there is anything new about so-called "new atheists," especially when it comes to saying that supernatural claims are false.

    2. I am not a professional philosopher, so my statement that PoR experts "know what they are talking about" can't be hubris in the sense that I am praising my own abilities.

    3. Yes, by default, I think professional philosophers who have Ph.D.s in the philosophy of religion DO know what they are talking about. So when they ridicule beliefs, they are less likely than non-experts to strawman the beliefs they are ridiculing. In contrast, non-experts in PoR are more likely than experts to strawman the beliefs they ridicule. For example, this isn't an example of ridicule, but whenever an atheist asks, "What caused God?", that's a category mistake which only makes that atheist look stupid, in the same way asking, "Who is that bachelor's wife?", a category error.

    1. Appreciate the response Jeff. At least I do now know you can offer a definitive answer [Points 1 through 3].

      As you say, in your exchange with Skep, you do indeed ask the questions. That seems to be your preferred modus operandi rather than to state a position, rightly or wrongly. Fear of creating a strawman of your own making? The tenor of your H2 argument more than implies ‘New Atheists’ are about as accurate as a blunderbuss, with a probability no greater than chance to being correct. It also plays on a pejorative demarcation intentionally differentiating the ‘new atheist’ from the ‘old atheist’, the latter who according to JJL, do “know what they’re talking about”. It it a distinction you clearly endorse viz. “Why prefer H1 over H2?

      Which leads me to infer that your rejection in Point 1 is disingenuous. The premise underlying the H1:H2 example relies precisely on making the distinction between ‘new’ and ‘old’ atheists. Might it be that you are using a strawman? Otherwise, why would you even consider offering Skep a strawman dichotomy to elicit a response about something which you yourself apparently eschew [Point 1]. I might add, whether you reject the notion or otherwise, is both inconsequential and irrelevant. It is already a feature of the everyday lexicon, thanks to our religious-minded combatants. Talk to Feser, Plantinga about refraining from using it.

      Your Point 2 is a bit of a stretch. You may miss having formal qualification in philosophy but one need only read your site to apprise the level of belief in your own ability to make comment on all manner of ‘philosophical’ issues of the moment. ‘Amateur’ is not an epithet that readily springs to my mind. I wonder what J W Loftus would make of this?

      Point 3? Irrelevant. Conjecture at best. The point has been missed. ‘Who made God?’ is no less a valid response to the theist corollary of the ‘ground of all being’.

      Contrary to your claim, PoR philosophers really don’t know what they are talking about, unless one understands that theology [religion] is a subsumed derivative of the broader study of Mythology. But in terms of understanding the world, about us, about the universe, I don’t think they do. According to you, Philosophers of the Feser and Bentley Hart variety, are made out to ‘know what they’re talking about and yet subscribe to the ‘ground of all being’ and ‘Goddidit’ as veritable fact meriting serious consideration. I don’t buy it, and neither you nor Parsons should be enablers to the Fesers, Plantingas and Harts of the world into imagining they have a genuine and deserving philosophical insight worthy of the claim.

    2. whenever an atheist asks, "What caused God?", that's a category mistake which only makes that atheist look stupid

      So either you think David Hume and Bertrand Russell look stupid, or you have a double standard.

    3. Well, as a matter of fact, I think Bertrand Russell, who I am a huge fan of and who played a role in my deconversion, does indeed look stupid when he dismisses cosmological arguments for that reason.

  9. im-skeptical:

    1. If Parsons is wrong, then so be it. If I think he is wrong, I won't hesitate to say so. You speak of being charitable, but you are either unaware or do not mention that Parsons has publicly admitted error many times in the past. So your claim that he refuses to admit that even he can be wrong about some things is false.

    2. My point about H1 and H2, which Papalinton labels semantics, is that you have been making an implied claim that you still have not adequately defended. You imply that the best explanation for the differences between the acceptability of "new atheist" ridicule vs. "old atheist" ridicule is hypocrisy or a double-standard: it's "okay" for 'old atheists' to do it, but not okay for 'new atheists' to do it. I'm not convinced yet there is a double-standard because all the examples of 'new atheist ridicule' I can think of are based on strawmen.

    When creationists try to ridicule evolution by asking, "If evolution is true, then why are there still monkeys?", in my opinion it's fair to ridicule the ridicule because their question is stupid & based upon a straw man of evolution. Likewise, if an atheist -- new or old -- tries to ridicule a supernatural claim based upon a strawman, it's fair to ridicule that atheist.

    On the other hand, I think it is totally fair to ridicule theistic beliefs when the ridicule isn't based on a strawman. For example, when Corey Washington (who is not a PoR) debated William Lane Craig, he employed a brilliant use of ridicule that wasn't based upon a strawman. After describing in detail the gruesome way Ebola kills its victims, he ended with the question, "Don't you think God could have made him [the victim in the story] suffer just a little bit less?"

    Compare that Jerry Coyne's book, which I haven't read -- yet. But I am genuinely curious if what Feser is accurate when he writes about Coyne's waffling on the definition of "religion." Feser determines that, by Coyne's own admission, what Coyne sometimes means by "religion" is "Bible Belt creationism." But then Feser points out that, in other places, Coyne seems to mean something else. The point: Coyne doesn't use a consistent definition of "religion" in his book.

    I haven't seen any of Coyne's defenders address this point yet, so let me ask you. Is that accurate? I think this is a hugely important question because you would expect a book about the incompatibility of science and religion to use a consistent definition of "science" and "religion."

    If it is accurate, then I think at least some of Feser's ridicule and scorn against Coyne appears justified. If it is not accurate, then I think at least some of Feser's ridicule and scorn against Coyne is unjustified.

    To sum up, I'm trying to steer the debate away from unsupported generalizations on either side and instead pin down specifics. So I'm not saying your blog post is wrong. I'm just saying I don't think it is supported yet. If it can be supported, then great! I'll join the bandwagon and criticize unjustified philosophical elitism or snobbery.

    1. To sum up, I'm trying to steer the debate away from unsupported generalizations on either side and instead pin down specifics.

      You're steering the discussion away from the points that I have been trying to make. I didn't make any complaint about Feser's criticism of the definition of religion. My main complaint was that he didn't address the content of the book. Parsons' reply to Feser was about how nasty those New Atheists are, with all their ridiculing and such, and I'd like to know what Coyne said to elicit that. Anyone care to provide some specifics here? But it did seem extremely hypocritical, given that his buddy Feser is a fine exemplar of what Parsons rails against. Or maybe it is superior knowledge of philosophical issues that justifies Feser's ad hominem attacks. I suppose that's my ignorance showing. I really don't get it.

  10. I really don't get it, either. Feser's opening salvo is that Coyne waffled on the definition of religion in his book, but your complaint is that Feser didn't address the content of the book. Isn't Coyne's definition of religion part of the content of his (Coyne's) book? If so, I really don't get your complaint. The most charitable interpretation I can come up with is that you either consider the definition to be unimportant and/or you don't think he covered enough of the book's content.

    I'm having a hard time understanding how it could be important to waffle on the definition of "religion" in a book about science vs. religion. It seems like a pretty foundational topic. If Coyne screwed it up, I can understand why Feser would dismiss the entire book.

    I suppose I need to go read Coyne's book for myself and then re-read Parsons' post and your post. Because right now I'm not seeing what you're seeing.

    1. Feser's opening salvo was an ad hominem attack on Coyne. He nit-picked about the definition of religion, and he ranted about a distorted view of scientism. But he didn't discuss anything of substance about the book beyond its introduction. And I'd still like to know what Parsons was complaining about.

    2. Feser's opening salvo was an ad hominem attack on Coyne.

      According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (see here), there are three recognized versions of the ad hominem fallacy. Let's compare those three versions to what Feser wrote to see if he is, in fact, guilty of committing this fallacy in his opening salvo.

      1. The abusive ad hominem fallacy "involves saying that someone’s view should not be accepted because they have some unfavorable property." Feser's salvo does not do this.

      2. The circumstantial ad hominem involves the allegation that the target's "position is supported by self-interest rather than by good evidence." As with the first type of ad hominem argument, Feser doesn't do this.

      3. Tu quoque. "It involves not accepting a view or a recommendation because the espouser him- or herself does not follow it." Once again, Feser doesn't do this.

      He nit-picked about the definition of religion,

      To call it "nitpicking" trivializes the importance of the definition to Coyne's book. In a book about science vs. religion, I think the definitions of "science" and "religion" are hugely important.

      and he ranted about a distorted view of scientism.

      I don't know why you call it "distorted" so I can't comment.

      But he didn't discuss anything of substance about the book beyond its introduction.

      That may well be true. As I said, I haven't read Coyne's book yet. But if -- notice I used the word "if" -- Coyne botched the definition of "religion," I think that would be a pretty good reason for dismissing the book, much as we tend to dismiss any creationist book which uses a bogus definition of "evolution."

      And I'd still like to know what Parsons was complaining about.

      I'm not Parsons, so I can't speak for him. And, as I said, if he's wrong, then so be it.

    3. Feser:

      Faith versus Fact is some kind of achievement. Biologist Jerry Coyne has managed to write what might be the worst book yet published in the New Atheist genre. True, the competition for that particular distinction is fierce. But among other volumes in this metastasizing literature, each has at least some small redeeming feature. For example, though Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing is bad as philosophy, it is middling as pop science. Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great was at least written by someone who could write like Christopher Hitchens. Though devoid of interest, Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation is brief. Even PZ Myers’s book The Happy Atheist has at least one advantage over Coyne’s book: It came out first.

      So saying that Coyne as an author lacks even the at-best mediocre qualities of the worst of the New Atheists doesn't qualify as ad hominem abusive in your mind? I must say, your reading of Feser is indeed charitable.

    4. Remember, an ad hominem is a type of informal fallacy. An insult is not an ad hominem.

      Ad hominem's pretty much work like this: Person A makes an argument P or a claim x. Person B says P is unsound or x is false not due to any fact about P, or any fact about x, but rather an alleged fact about A.

      Ad hominems are fallacies of irrelevance. The problem with them, as the "irrelevance" parts suggests, is that the ad hominem attack has nothing to do with the soundness of an argument or the truth of some proposition, unless the circumstances allow it.

      Feser then would be committing an ad hominem by saying Coyne "lacks even the at-best mediocre qualities of the worst of the New Atheists" only if either one of the following occurs:

      1. Feser insults Coyne to infer that an argument by Coyne is invalid (Or inductively weak), and the insult is irrelevant to the validity of inductive strength of Coyne's argument.

      2. Feser insults Coyne to show that a proposition asserted by Coyne is false, and the insult is irrelevant to the truth of Coyne's asserted proposition.

      Feser can be very insulting to New Atheists, but unlike his psychopathic commenters on his site, I don't think Feser actually commits the ad hominem fallacy with his insults.

    5. Feser insults Coyne as a means of showing that his book is bad, rather than pointing out specifically what makes it bad. you can call it what you like. I call it ad hominem.

    6. Well, if he did not actually commit an ad hominem then you should not call it an ad hominem. That is, you ought to not call it what it is not if you want to be an ethical speaker. If what Feser says does not fit what I described as an ad hominem then you need to use a different term unless you want to speak without accuracy.

    7. I still think it is ad hominem. In that particular paragraph, he's not refuting one of Coyne's arguments in the book (actually, he didn't do that at all), but he is refuting the proposition that the book is worth reading, and he does it by making personal insults against the author. In my book, that's ad hominem. You are free to disagree, but if you do, what would you call it?