Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Casting Thomist Pearls before Scientistic Swine: The philosophical education of Jerry Coyne

Okay. Do I feel prophetic or what?

No sooner had I posted about a little back and forth on a philosophical question now going on between Ed Feser (who actually, like, knows philosophy) and biologist Jerry Coyne (who apparently thinks it's easy to do, but doesn't seem to have much of a clue)--and observing that the first thing thinkers like Coyne do is mention the "Kalam" cosmological argument (largely because all they seem to understand is temporal causation)--than what does Coyne do?

He mentions the Kalam argument!

My point in the earlier post was that the people who critique the cosmological argument don't understand the difference between a temporal (what I called "horizontal") causation and ontological (or "vertical") causation, and so they make criticisms of the cosmological argument that assume the former, but betray an ignorance of the latter--which is why they almost always (as Coyne does here) use the old "then what caused God?" argument.

There's a reason you don't find much about this response in serious philosophical treatments of this issue: any real philosophy knows enough about the argument to know it's not a very telling response and indicates that the person really doesn't understand the argument.

Coyne even invokes Dawkins, whose book provided a classical example of this confusion, saying his book provided a "good summary" of the responses to this argument. The book is actually a philosophical embarrassment, as I have pointed out. But don't tell Coyne. He thinks it's pretty heady stuff.

And these are the people that laugh at creationists for not knowing what they're talking about.

So now Coyne has agreed, as Feser suggested, to read Aquinas. I think Feser has a little more confidence than I do that Coyne is even going to understand what Aquinas is saying, since he has no background in the terminology. He'll continue to confuse temporal with ontological causation and he'll think that what Aquinas means by motion is what scientists after Newton meant by it.

Just watch. I'll be on a streak!

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