Sides, Sides, Everywhere are Sides …

So, while the debate over whether the Coyne/Haught debate should be posted, a commenter eric decided to call me out by name.

Jerry, any response or comment from your hanger-on apologists like Verbose Stoic?

That guy is always demanding we scientists consider sophisticated theology before passing judgement. Well V.S., Jerry did consider it. And a sophisticated theologian did respond. And the whole thing is on tape.

If your side is really honest about wanting us to consider your position, why is Haught suppressing the tape? Why are your sophisticated theologians actively trying to prevent people from considering their sophisticated theology?

Well, he could have just checked to see; he definitely knows where my blog is.

But, putting that aside, there’s a serious issue here: why in the world does he thing that I’m somehow on the same side as Haught? One of my main mottos is this: “Side? I’m on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side.” What justifies his claim that somehow Haught’s side and my side are the same side?

The problem, I think, comes from a presumption, that a lot of people who reject theology do argue and that some theologians rely on, but that when applied to debates like this is totally false: if you say that someone has to read/understand/consider sophisticated theology then you are saying that if they do consider that then they’ll come to believe or know that the theology is correct. This, of course, is not what I do at all. When I ask someone to understand or read or consider theology or philosophy or whatever, all I mean is that if they are going to criticize an argument or a field or whatever they really do need to make sure that they are addressing it and not strawman-type arguments or making blanket denunciations against it without ever bothering to see what the argument is actually saying.

I have never read Haught, and suspect that when I do get around to watching the video I will not agree with Haught’s theology. I strongly suspect that he would not agree with at least some of the theological/philosophical solutions I’ve posited for some problems if he ever does come across and read them. I do not think the ontological argument works, but took Dawkins to task in my critique of it for not understanding what the argument is doing, which others have also done. I do not think that Edward Feser’s and Aquineas’ views of Being in the link will work, but will still insist that people who reject it outright at least need to understand it and reject for good reasons and not just out of ignorance and in the service of unexamined intuitions and commitments. When I argued that Coyne and his commenters did not understand philosophy I meant just that, not that I think that this philosophical move will work (I have explicitly stated that I don’t think it will).

To say that someone doesn’t actually understand the argument and needs to learn what it actually says does not mean that you think the argument is right. In my case, I will talk about “interestingly wrong” arguments, usually in defense of arguments that we think wrong but where it isn’t obvious why it’s wrong. I will then admonish people to learn what the argument is really saying to see that. They, then, tend to stop at “wrong”. Fair enough. But to dismiss an entire field without understanding it just because you think that so far it’s gotten everything wrong is not justified … and that’s all I oppose when I say you need to understand the arguments you are criticizing or dismissing.

Haught, Feser, myself, Coyne, Myers, Dawkins and all sorts of people do think that our own arguments are right, and so when we are defending our own arguments we will indeed mean that we think if you read our arguments you’ll come to accept whatever we’re trying to convince you of with them. But that does not necessarily hold when we’re talking about the arguments of other people. In some cases, I may well be more on “Coyne’s side” than on “Haught’s side”. And vice versa. And I may be on no one’s side, literally, since I disagree with both.

The commenter eric wants to divide people up into sides and then use, say, Haught’s objection here against all the people on that “side”, which he includes me in. But there are no set sides that he can use to do that, and so his whole demand is at least completely wrong-headed. We need to stop trying to define sides and start looking at what people are actually saying. Radical concept, I know, but let’s give it a try, just to add some variety to the debate.

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